What are they?
Like the name suggests, bathroom slippers are slippers for the bathroom.
Why I used to not understand it:
One of the first things foreigners learn about Japan when they visit is the fact everyone takes their shoes off in the genkon entrance of the house. Wearing shoes inside is a big no-no in Japan. I actually can’t think of anything more socially unacceptable than forgetting to take your shoes off when you enter someone’s house.
But that’s public knowledge.
I’ve never broken the rule; I’ve never even met someone who has broken that rule either.
The second thing you learn is the fact that when you remove your shoes, you are usually expected to wear slippers inside. One of the first purchases I made for my apartment was a couple pairs of “guest slippers” for when my friends came to visit.
Slippers in Japan are great. In the winter they keep your feet warm; in the summer they stop your feet from sweating and sticking to the floor (but be careful, you are not supposed to wear slippers on the tatami mats inside a traditional Japanese house).
And then there are bathroom slippers. Bathroom slippers are exactly what they sound like: slippers in the bathroom. Most traditional restaurants, community centers, or Japanese schools will have these little plastic shoes for people to change into when they go inside the bathroom. This is supposed to keep the bathroom mess, well, in the bathroom.
Homes also have toilet slippers. The toilet slippers in most Japanese homes are a comfortable, fuzzy cloth that feels great. But it is still confusing.
Imagine this. I’m at my friend’s house, wearing a pair of their guest slippers. I have to go to the bathroom. I open the bathroom door, step out of the guest slippers, arrange them neatly outside the bathroom door, step into a pair of bathroom slippers, shut the door, and do my business. As soon as I flush, I open the bathroom door and walk outside.
But oops, I forgot to take off my bathroom slippers.
I always forget that step. Maybe it’s because the typical bathroom slippers are leagues more comfortable than Japanese guest slippers. Every time I visit one of my Japanese friend’s houses, it a complicated ritual of slipper exchanging. I can’t wear house slippers on the tatami mat or bathroom; I can’t wear bathroom slippers outside the bathroom.
Sometimes I just give up and walk around the house barefoot (offending everyone). It’s complicated.
Why I love bathroom slippers:
Like I said before, bathroom slippers keep the bathroom mess in the bathroom. I think that’s great – especially in elementary schools where little Japanese boys haven’t quite learned how to aim yet.
I was teaching English at a community center in Japan a couple years back. We already had to change shoes at the entrance of the community center; I taught my lessons in plastic orange slippers two sizes too small. Every time I went to the bathroom, I had to switch from my plastic orange slippers to identical plastic orange slippers with the words “toilet” written across the toe in Japanese. I thought it was ridiculous.
However, one day there had been some sort of leak in the bathroom. Or maybe kids had some sort of a water fight earlier that morning. Or maybe a toilet had exploded. In any case, for whatever reason, the floor was damp. It was a bit nasty.
I really appreciated the toilet shoes that day. If wear wearing normal shoes, I would have ended up tracking all sorts of mud and gunk into the classroom. Japanese bathroom slippers are fantastic.