Faux Pas

Japan has given the world the automated bidet toilet where people can wash their nether regions after use with the push of a button. Today, more than 80% of the Japanese households have these kinds of toilets, and they are becoming more and more popular in the West as well.

Toilet slippers in Japan

photo by Crispin Semmens, wikimedia commons.

However, one thing that is unlikely to spread to the western world is the use of toilet slippers. Those are usually very cheap, easy to clean slippers, that are used in the toilet – and only in the toilet! They are provided mostly in restaurants where you have to take off your shoes, but also some private homes are using them. You are supposed to remove your usual slippers in front of the toilet, use the toilet slippers while inside doing your business, and then switch slippers again when returning to the main part of the house.

The idea behind toilet slippers is, that there are “clean” and “unclean” parts to a house. The outside is generally seen as “unclean”, that’s why you are asked to remove your shoes when entering a Japanese home. Traditionally, the toilet was outside of the house, and people would have to literally step out of the house and put on their shoes to go there. Even in modern homes, the toilet is often located nearby the entrance or as far away as possible from the main living area. Many houses have the bathroom and toilet (two rooms, actually) on the first floor, and the bedrooms on the third floor, which I find rather inconvenient – what if you’re sick?

Anyway, one of the bigger faux pas that a foreigner can commit is to use the toilet slippers – and then forget to change to the normal ones again, and going back to the livingroom wearing the ones designated for the toilet. It happened to me twice already… In my defense: it was winter both times, and those were very nice, fluffy and warm toilet slippers. I was with friends in both cases, and their reaction surprised me: They were laughing their heads off at the silly foreigner! I was very surprised at this reaction, I thought people would be offended by me making their home dirty. But they just found it extremely funny. Oh yes, the Japanese: you never know what you can expect…

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