The Asian Custom of Removing Shoes at the Door

Couple enjoying sushiThe old traditional homes in Asia were raised about 2 feet off the ground for ventilation and staying above the cold damp earth. It was customary to remove your slippers in the entry which was at ground level and one would step up into the home in their socks.  This custom of removing your shoes before entering a home, is still practiced in Asian homes throughout the world.

In newly constructed homes in Asia, regardless whether a single family home or high rise, the entrance is usually lower than the rest of the home. You step up into the house or flat.  This practical design allows for any type of weather, such that all dirty and wet gear can be left in the entrance and does not need to be brought into the home, hence the house stays clean. This has a physical and psychological purpose: the motion of stepping up to a different level, allows one to be aware that they are entering someone’s private space.   Originally, the Japanese home had wood hallways with tatami or woven straw mats as flooring for the rooms.  The ancient Koreans had under floor heating stones to heat their wooden floors.  That’s the original radiant heat!!!  What one must remember is that the Asian lifestyle at that time was mainly centered around the floor. The tables were low and they sat on the floor to eat, sleep and do all their activities.  That’s why it was so important to have clean and warm floors.  That tradition remains today.

Another point is that Asians believe it is good health practice to be barefoot. The Chinese have been practicing foot reflexology for over 5,000 years.  Being barefoot allows your pressure points to be stimulated.  When confined in shoes all day, your feet do not have the chance to breathe, stretch and feel.  If you do not practice removing your shoes in your home, please give it a try and see how you feel.  You may like it!

Today, western furniture has taken over the average Asian home, but we still like to sit on the floor and walk barefoot.  Just remember when visiting an Asian home, wear clean socks with no holes because you may be asked to remove your shoes!

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39 Comments

  1. Visited your site Matthew and enjoyed your articles. Maybe your exposure in Japan influenced your habits. I found it interesting that the younger generation in the U.K. remove their shoes! Please continue to spread this lovely custom!

  2. This is a lovely post. I’m rethinking what I keep on my feet…I read this post the other day and I’m going to try to be outdoors without shoes…

    http://mananddog.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/how-to-live-simply-like-a-child/#comments

    I just noticed while reading your post that I’m wearing socks inside…I normally don’t wear shoes inside, but I almost always wear socks…they’re numbing in a way though. It can feel nice just to rub my feet together while sitting, etc : )

    • Thanks Chloe. Barefoot is fun but nowadays you have to be careful with what’s on the ground. In Hawaii there are many who do go barefoot, but they have developed thick soles. If you have soft skin it might be best if you in take it in small steps!

  3. Hi Chloe, thanks for checking in. In cold weather I think you need to wear socks inside. Do you wear socks in the summer too? Just wondering if it’s just what one is accustomed to.

  4. Jenny, I wear socks most days, simply because of impaired circulation. Even in summer, my feet are rarely warm! Thank you for posting the historical significance of shoe removal. The step up to the door as a signal that one is entering a private place had not occurred to me. Our old house did not have this step; the threshold was level to the sidewalk. The new house does have this step and it seems to me that this home has a much “homier” feeling to it.
    Now I’m off to read more, your blog is wonderful!

    • Hi Emjay, Thanks for reading my blog and happy to hear you are enjoying it! You mention your new home as a step to the living level, so I am assuming you live in Japan. Is this a right assumption?
      I don’t know if it is just superstition, but I have heard that going barefoot can help with circulation, because it stimulates your pressure points. You may want to give it a try this summer on a hot day. Let me know if it really works for you!
      Jenny

  5. Hi Emjay,
    Happy you stopped by and thanks for reading my posts!
    From you comment you mention that your new home has a step. Am I right to assume that means you live in Japan or somewhere in Asia?
    I sympathize with your poor circulation, but you may want to try to remove your socks just during summer, to see if it may actually help to increase circulation. I have similar issues during the winter months and one method I use is to soak my feet in a plastic tub full of hot water. It really helps to warm not only the feet but the whole body. Let me know if any of this suggestions help. Have a great day!
    Jenny

  6. Jenny, no, we live in Northern California. I actually walk outside in bare feet during the summer, unless I’m working in the garden. I do love to soak up the warmth. Tile floors indoors, though, are the bane of my existence! They are so chilly, even without a/c on! I will see if the warm water soak helps, thanks for the tip!

  7. Hi Emjay, Northern California! One should never assume! Is your home designed with an Asian influence?
    Bare feet outside sounds good for your health. As for tile floors, they are easy maintenance but hard on the body. If you don’t want to use traditional rugs you may want to try some goza mats. These are made of rush grass, the same material used for tatami mats, but are portable and lightweight so are easy to pick up and shake outside, or even the outdoor type rugs. Just a suggestion.

  8. Pingback: Lifestyle in Japan « Exploring the World

  9. I’m Brown and i like to take off my shoes before entering anybody’s home including my own because if you wear your shoes into the house after coming from outside your basically bringing the outdoors into your home.

  10. Hi Asilia,
    I think that’s very considerate!
    Hi niggley,
    Wearing shoes inside the home is a practice in many cultures. So, it really depends on your culture. A good rule of thumb is just to follow what everyone in the home does. If they all keep their shoes on, then that’s okay in that household and if they all remove them, then remove yours too. This way you are respecting the home owners wishes.

  11. Hello, I found this while trying to find what the Japanese do about flat feet in these cases, but I can’t seem to find anything at all. I have a very bad need for good arch support in my footwear and I used to go barefoot all the time. But as I’ve grown older that’s become more difficult to do even in the home as the hard floors start to give me shin splints and increase my back pains. I was wondering if you had any clue if the reason the japanese don’t seem to have this trouble is because of the tatami mats or if there are other ways they take care of such problems so as to remain shoeless in the home.

  12. Hi Jeanne,
    Sorry to hear about your pain. As I have aged, I found that there is less support and flesh on my feet and need more cushioning. Carpet is fine and so is our cork flooring, and while wood feels okay, tile really wears me out.
    What I have resorted to do, as with many of the elderly in Japan is to wear indoor slippers. For me the most comfortable are crocs. Yes, they are rather unsightly, but at this age, comfort takes priority over beauty! Hope this helps.

  13. I don’t care so much about my hard surface floors since they can be easily cleaned and don’t show traffic patterns; however, my stepdaughter and her family live in our newly finished basement with new carpet down the stairs. They and most of their guests make no effort to remove their shoes. This is especially annoying when the weather is inclement. They might not care about what the carpet looks like after they leave, but I do! I’m going to post a sign, but I’m sure it will not make me popular!

  14. I don’t care so much about my hard surface floors since they can be easily cleaned and don’t show traffic patterns; however, my stepdaughter and her family live in our newly finished basement with new carpet down the stairs. They and most of their guests make no effort to remove their shoes. This is especially annoying when the weather is inclement. They might not care about what the carpet looks like after they leave, but I do!

  15. @Tracey. I understand your dilemma. I suggest you make rules for your step-daughter and her family to protect your carpet. It really takes minimal effort to remove shoes. The best way to convince them is to explain the benefits of keeping a sanitary and healthy environment for their children and themselves.

  16. I really like the asian custom off taking shoes off at the door. Most families that I know also wear slippers and offer their guests slippers to wear. This is a very polite and simple thing to do. I always wear slippers in my house, families and friends have their own pair to wear.

  17. Hi Mark,
    I don’t know where you live, but I’m finding more and more people in the West are taking off their shoes. Among my friends, we do take our own slippers to friends homes so we don’t mess up their floors! I now even have a designated ‘slipper bag’.

  18. We are in the UK. I remember that when we in school ages 5-12 we had to take a slipper bag to school. Our school did not allow outdoor shoes to be worn so we had a slipper bag to carry our indoor slippers to wear.
    We also take our slippers with us when visiting

  19. No Jenny this was in the UK. I started school in 1967. Many schools here in the UK then insisted on all pupils removing their shoes. Its considered a recent trend here to remove shoes at the door but its been happening for quite a long time.

  20. Oh, I never knew they did that in the UK. I asked my husband who was born and went to elementary school in Folkstone, but he said he can’t remember. I know my father-in-law, in Bath, changes his shoes but I thought that he was influenced by all his visits to Japan! Must ask him and I guess I should never assume! Thanks for sharing.

  21. I think that the Asian custom of removing shoes at the door is quite a sensible one. We in the West might frown upon it, but as you rightly pointed out, the logic behind removing one’s shoes at the door is so that all the dust, dirt and germs under the soles of our shoes do not get dragged into the house. I personally wouldn’t mind doing it, if my host doesn’t find it weird.

  22. Pingback: Hi, I’m Asian. Come In, Leave Your Shoes On. Or Not | Mabel Kwong

  23. Hi Jenny,

    Thanks for this wonderful blog. I am half Japanese, and this was just how things were. As many people have expressed, it’s hard to get other people to respect this aspect, especially when they reply with “I’m only going to be here for a few minutes.”
    I’m barefoot as much as I possibly can be. I do pay the price of having not-as-pretty feet as the pampered girl, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Socks are even too much sometimes.
    I’m just glad that my Obaasan taught me how to make a few Japanese dishes before she passed. :)
    Thanks again for the wonderful blog.

  24. Yes, it is true about Asians not wearing or removing shoes/slippers before going in- doors, rather in their homes. because it not only shows cleanliness, but respect to the person inviting you into their homes (Mostly cleanliness – Asians are very clean people what I’ve been taught by my grandparents). I, being Asian myself – Filipino, have been doing this custom for years, growing up in a traditional Asian household in the United States.

  25. Hi, I am doing a project/research on the process of coming to America and creating a new “home” and how it can possibly create nostalgia for ones home country. My focus is on home decor/decorating as an outlet to to create this new home and how one may use home decorating to relate back to their home country.

    If you (or anyone!) has any insight or personal experience with coming to the US and using Asian inspired decor elements to create a home similar to one you had in your native country, I would greatly appreciate it! Also if home decor or a piece in general creates nostalgia.

  26. Hi Gabbie,
    Sounds like an interesting project.
    From my circle of Japanese friends, many of us bring things from Japan to remind us of home. For me, I have Japanese tansu, pottery, prints, and my main love is Japanese dishes. These are all smaller items that can be brought.
    For the larger environment, my parents and several friends have a tatami room in their home. In this room, you really feel like you are back in Japan! Simply recreating the design using materials from your native country will do the trick. Hope this helps.
    Jenny

  27. I was born and raised in Guam . I was taught to ALWAYS respect people’s houses.
    I’ve never wear my foot wear in the house, for the past 58 years. Imagine stepping on spits,etc . with your shoes or sandle….

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