by Jes Stayton, Greenheart Travel High School Abroad Participant
Many foreigners know that the Japanese always take their shoes off before they enter the house. However, what they don’t know is that this is actually part of a larger cultural belief that the ground (outside) is dirty and essentially separate from the floor of a house or a school.
Because of that belief, a Japanese person would never put their coat on the ground or walk around barefoot. Anywhere a person walks around with their shoes on is considered the ground. That includes public buildings, the train, and even some hotels. When I went to Kyoto with my first host family, we stayed at a Western-style hotel. I was told that I had to wear my shoes or slippers inside the hotel room.
Many people also won’t put their bags on the floor. If you ride the subway in Japan, you will see many people with their bags in their laps, or on the seat next to them. In school there are hooks on the sides of the desks so that students can hang their bags from them. Interestingly enough, if you ask a Japanese student to list some differences between Japanese and American culture, one of the things they will tell you is that Americans wear their shoes inside the house. However, this isn’t necessarily true; we also don’t wear shoes inside the house. But wearing shoes inside the house isn’t nearly as shocking in America as in Japan, because American culture lacks the clear definition between the clean inside and dirty outside.