There’s Something about Feet

There is definitely something special going on about feet here. Everyone removes their shoes before entering their home. That is a given and I understand it. No problem. There are special slippers to put on for the toilet and at the onsen or public bath it is barefeet only, entirely naked only in fact. So, it would appear that you have to make at least a few social blunders in Japan. Mine concerned my first encounter with toilet slippers. It happened in a small family restaurant in Hakone, near Mount Fuji. When you first walk into a restaurant, or public place requiring that you remove your shoes, there is generally some physical indication, like a line of shoes already waiting, or a raised floor area for the tables with tatami matts.  Both of these indications were present and I readily removed my shoes, but without really thinking (it was January and rather cold in the restaurant) I slipped into a pair of slippers sitting right there, next to my shoes. I was already well into the area with the tables before the host kindly and firmly informed me that I was wearing the toilet slippers!!!

At first, when at the gym I kept getting confused about what to wear, where. Socks are allowed in the change room, but then, I walk in these same socks up one flight of stairs or in the elevator to the gym and then can come back to the change room in my socks and that’s okay. But, maybe it isn’t and no one has noticed or bothered to tell me. There are plastic slippers that I can wear to the swimming pool, maybe, I’m not sure about that either, but no one except me seems to be afraid of picking up planters warts or athlete’s foot, but then the staff is there all the time washing and cleaning constantly.

“Here, shoes are removed and placed in a line, with the toes facing the door, ready to be slipped on and go out again!” is how it was explained to me. At my first visit to MOT, Museum of Contemporary Art,  I laughed and so wished I had taken a photo…there, in front of a curtained-off area for a Pipilotti Rist video installation was one very tidy straight line of shoes all facing outwards and several other pairs including mine cast off as they came off the feet any-old-way here and there. It is pretty obvious, which of these shoes have Japanese owners and which do not.

In Kochi Castle, where I walked around in sock feet on wooden floors, I kept imagining visiting a castle in England and being asked to remove my shoes to walk on the cold damp stone floors.

Women in Tokyo are absolutely in love with highheels and wild footwear. Sometimes the platforms are so high, I wonder how they do it and other times I can see the wincing in their stride. Another very interesting thing about shoes here is the prevalence of socks with all the toes separate – are they called toe socks? And the two-toed socks, which I really love and can now wear with sandals and not feel like I am committing a fashion error! I imagine these socks must have developed alongside the wooden sandals that people still wear when donning a traditional kimono. I have also seen workers wearing two-toed boots.