Things I love about Japan: Bathroom Slippers

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

Bathroom Slippers in Japan

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.

Japanese Genkon Entrance

Japanese Genkon Entrance

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.

Socks are so much easier

Socks are so much easier

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.

Or girls. Because aiming like this is hard work.

Or girls. Because aiming like this is hard work.

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.

 plastic slippers in Japan

About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

14 Comments on Things I love about Japan: Bathroom Slippers

  1. It’s also the norm in Turkey to wear slippers inside home, to have “guest slippers” and to keep separate slippers for the toilet room and the bathroom. I’m glad I will have one less adaptation problem if I live there :D

  2. I don’t wear slippers at all in my apartment, my husband does but he doesn’t bother wearing toilet slippers lol. I never wore shoes in the house back home in the U.S., we always take our shoes off at my family’s, but we would just be in socks or barefoot at my family’s house, so when I came to Japan and learned people wear slippers instead of just being in socks or barefoot I thought it was a bit too much, I was tripping in them all the time and hitting my feet into stuff, I am much more clumsy in slippers, so I decided to stop wearing them as I fell over too many times wearing them, my feet are big enough as is without wearing slippers.

    And public slippers like at doctors offices/dentists gross me out, the thought of sharing a public slipper grosses me out, don’t people ever think about if someone has smelly sweaty feet, fungus, or dirty socks? lol. I know Japanese are picky about cleanliness but sharing a public shoe defeats the whole germ phobia cleanliness purpose if you end up getting fungus from some stranger. I notice the bottom of my feet started itching on and off after I came to Japan, probably due to the fact of having to wear shared public slippers, so now I got athletes foot because of it :(

    • Oh no, sorry to hear about the athlete’s foot :(

      I have a hard time remembering to wear slippers in the house. Bathroom slippers I am strangely ok with, though. My husband and I have a whole collection of slippers, but we only use them when company comes over. Other than that, we both kind of prefer wearing socks (me more than him).

      I’m also not a fan of the public slippers at hospitals and stuff – especially since my feet are “big” by Japanese standards…

  3. No matter how well trained men are, there is a splash zone around a toilet caused my water splashing out as streak hits toilet water. It’s small amount and barely perceptible but it’s there. Every time you go near a toilet men use you will step on that and spread it elsewhere. Toilet slippers are the most thoughtful and hygienic thing you can do to make your house cleaner.

    • Yeah, my husband has told me that a couple of times. I guess it makes sense. It just kind of, you know, makes me wonder why other countries haven’t adopted this whole “bathroom slippers make things more hygienic” thing.

  4. Good explanation – quite a challenge getting the hang of the etiquette… amazing contrast in toilet designs too. From squatting to high-tech thrones… what an experience, heated seats, the works!

    • gracebuchele // 9 August, 2013 at 2:44 pm //

      I love the heated seats! I agree, there is a huge difference between the high tech throne toilets and the basic holes in the ground. Toilets in Japan are… interesting?

  5. I remember in older houses in England, they have carpet in bathrooms.

  6. The amount of thought this would require of me seems pretty impossible. I guess I get it in a public setting, but at home…?!

    • I actually don’t have bathroom slippers in my apartment – some of my friends have expressed disgust with the fact I don’t have specific bathroom slippers (I guess I’m just lazy).
      It’s weird.

      I’m trying to get used to it, but it’s taking a bit of time…

  7. Wow, that’s…interesting. I could never visit Japan. I’d get so frustrated. But I kind of enjoy experiencing it second hand and like you said, I can see why they think it makes sense — just too much work! Lol

    • I think it’s a bit frustrating living here… but also very rewarding. It depends on the day (some are better than others).
      And I think living here makes me a better (and easier to adapt) person!

      • Oh yeah, absolutely!!! Living in other countries makes you much more aware of and open to other traditions elsewhere that you just wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate otherwise.

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