What Is the Etiquette for Taking Shoes Off in Japan?

Taking shoes off in Japan may not seem like an important topic…, until you’ve approached your first genkan at a ryokan, temple or restaurant.


Arriving at the Genkan

The foyer of a building or a home in Japan is called a genkan. You’ll see these in Japanese homes, at ryokan, at hot springs, temples and shrines, and even some restaurants.

The genkan is usually lower than the interior floor, and made of a different material. These are clear indicators that this is an area for taking shoes off before entering.

Understanding Clean and Dirty

Shoes are dirty, of course, and they stay in the genkan, which is also dirty. Socked feet are clean, and the interior floor is clean, so your socked feet should never touch the dirty area.

Feet and socks should never touch the same ground as shoes. If done properly, your socks should never get dirty when taking off your shoes in Japan.

On the same note, shoes should never touch the clean area. Shoes that have been worn outside should never go beyond the genkan, since shoes are considered very dirty.

Also, you shouldn’t prop your shoes up on a spare chair or train bench or any place that is meant to be used as a seat.

Taking Shoes Off in Japan

There is a bit of a strategy to taking your shoes off in a Japanese genkan, since you don’t want your socked feet to touch the dirty genkan floor. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Walk up to the raised, interior floor.
  2. Turn away from the interior floor, so your heels are backed up to the raised floor.
  3. Now, slip one foot out of its shoe and step backward onto the interior floor with that same foot.
  4. Next, slip the second foot out of its shoe and step backward onto the interior floor.

You don’t want to take your shoes off and stand on the genkan floor with your socks.

After taking your shoes off, it’s polite to either put them on a provided shoe rack, or put them off to the side of the genkan. It’s common practice to point your shoes outwards towards the door, so when you come back, it’s easy to slip them back on.

Slipper Etiquette

If there are slippers available, then we recommend wearing them. You can wear slippers almost everywhere inside the building, except for on tatami. Absolutely no slippers on tatami flooring.

There’s often a separate pair of slippers provided in the restroom. In this case, you want to take off your interior slippers outside the restroom, and put on the toilet slippers inside the restroom.

IMPORTANT: Don’t forget to take your toilet slippers off when you leave the restroom. This is a very embarrassing error you’d rather not experience.

If you’re at a ryokan, you can wear your slippers anywhere in the building, such as going to the hot spring bath, breakfast, and other facilities inside the ryokan. They’re not meant to be worn outside the building.

Putting Shoes Back on

If your shoes are in a shoe rack, take them out of the rack and place them in the genkan with the toes facing outward. Keep your socked feet on the interior floor. Place one foot in a shoe at a time, and then step away from the interior floor to adjust your shoes.

If you’re at a tourist spot, try to step out of the genkan before adjusting your shoes. You don’t want to stand in the genkan for too long because other people are coming in and out. So, just slip your shoes on, and then step away.

In most public genkan, you’ll often find a shoehorn and a bench nearby where you can adjust and tie your shoes. Don’t put your shoes on the bench to tie them. Sit on the bench, and then lean over to tie your shoes.

Also, don’t sit on the raised portion of the interior floor to tie your shoes. It’s better to go to the bench to sit down.

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Final Thoughts

Keep in mind that you’re going to be taking shoes off in Japan a lot. So, we always recommend that you pack comfortable shoes that are easy to take on and off. And bring lots and lots of clean socks with no holes!