One of the difficult adjustments to make when living in or visiting Japan is changing in and out of slippers. It seems that every time you enter a room you have to slip into a new pair of slippers. Going to the bathroom? Put on slippers. Hanging the laundry? Change in to sandals.
It is outright bonkers.
This is what I have to go through every day. Upon entering the home, it is mandatory to remove your shoes at the doorway. This entranceway is called the ‘genkan.’ What’s that you say? You do that in your American
home? Sure, many do. But in Japan, that is just where the fun starts.
After removing your “outside” shoes, you slip into a comfortable pair of slippers, usually stacked away in a cupboard near the entrance. These slippers are called surripa. Notice a similarity in words?
Most native Japanese offer surripa to guests when visiting, as do ryokan (traditional hotels) and even some restaurants. Japanese schoolchildren wear a pair of shoes for outdoors then change into a different pair to wear in the classroom. Clothing stores don’t allow you to wear your shoes in the dressing room.
The Japanese are extra careful to keep dirt off the floor because in many instances people sit on the floor while they eat. You really don’t want to be worrying if someone stepped in dog doo while you are slurping up your somen noodles.
In our apartment, there is limited space in which we can wear our surripa.
This is because we have two bedrooms and an office that are covered with tatami. Tatami is the floor covering made from woven straw and surripa are NOT to be worn on tatami.
The reasoning is twofold. First, cleanliness comes into play once again. Older generations of Japanese still sleep directly on the tatami. While most people at least put down a futon mattress, even Lisa’s father will sometimes lie down directly on the tatami to take a quick nap.
The second reason not to stomp around on tatami in footwear is simple maintenance. The straw in the tatami isn’t as hardy as your stain resistant carpeting. Wearing surripa on tatami accelerates the deterioration.
So yes, when I walk into the apartment, I immediately slip on the surripa, walk 10 feet, and take off the surripa in order to enter the bedroom or office.
In actuality, I tend to skip the surripa altogether and just wear socks.
Does this seem a little silly? Well hold on to your suspenders, because there is more wackiness to ensue.
Because not only do I have a pair of surripa that are worn solely in the living room and kitchen, but there is another pair that is
restricted to the bathroom. This poor pair of surripa never even gets to see the light of day, kind of like Sloth in the Goonies. These slippers are shared in the household, though more affluent families might have as many as two pair of surripa in the bathroom. The uber-rich households might even have a different set of bathroom slippers for every member of the family, but that seems a little extravagant.
Us? One pair will do. One pair of purple slippers with a cute little bow on the toes.
I am completely comfortable with that.
Now the slippers in the bathroom I have become accustomed to. I have visited Japan 5 times and spent nights drinking in several Japanese homes back in America. I am familiar with the bathroom slippers.
What has caused me the most fits are the sandals on the balcony.
The first few days I lived here Lisa was harping at me incessantly not to walk on the balcony in my socks or bare feet. This is purely a sanitary thing. The balcony is outside and there is dirt on the balcony. When you walk on the balcony without the sandals, you bring that dirt inside.
Fine. I will wear the sandals. But it is tough. The main reason we use the balcony is to hang the laundry. So in this process, we take a few garments out of the wash and take them outside to hang on the clothesline. This takes 2 seconds. Or it should take 2 seconds. Instead, I fumble around with the flip-flops, hang the laundry, and then take the flip-flops off without tripping. Then I get more laundry and repeat the process. This increases everything by three-fold the time it would take to hang the laundry without the goddam sandals. And they say the Japanese are efficient.
So that is my gripe with the balcony sandals.
Now, I had seen the balcony sandals before at Lisa’s parents house and I had been yelled at for not using them. But until we moved
into this apartment in Setagaya, I had never before seen the shower boots.
The shower boots are these uncomfortable pair of cheap plastic boots we keep outside the wash room and must be worn in the room unless you are taking a shower/bath. It’s like wearing cheap flower pots on your feet.
I didn’t truly realize why we have the shower boots until today. I went in the wash room to clean out the tub. Lisa has conditioned me well, so I automatically put on the shower boots.
Now, the drain for the tub is on the floor. When you empty water out of the tub, it spills onto the floor before circling down the drain. Do you see what I am getting at?
When I rinsed out the tub with the shower nozzle, the water surged onto the floor. If I hadn’t been wearing the shower boots I would have had soggy socks, and a soggy disposition.
Well, those are all of the slippers we have in our apartment. Lisa just got done reading this and said, “But in the winter you like to wear the slippers because your feet get cold.”