The 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!
89 thoughts on “The Asian Custom of Removing Shoes at the Door”
The Asian custom of removing shoes is a great one.
I have an whole blog on this subject: Shoes Off at the Door, Please You might like to take a look.
Thanks, I’ll have a look. Have you lived in Asia Matthew?
I agree it is such a simple yet practical custom.
I spent two months in Japan doing voluntary work with a Christian church.
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!
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…
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!
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.
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!
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, 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!
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.
This is one thing that you should remember when you go to Asian houses. They really want to keep their houses clean and we should respect that.
I agree Adrianna, but regardless of being an Asian house or not, we should respect everyone’s home don’t you think?
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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.
hi how are you,
i wear my shoes inside, is that a bad thing, am i showing disraspect or anything to my family??
I think that’s very considerate!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
@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.
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.
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’.
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
So am I right to assume you went to school in Japan? Where about?
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.
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.
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.
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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.
I like this custom a lot. It symbolises the sign of purity.
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.
@Jeffrey, You have good grandparents! Happy to hear you have been keeping the tradition going – please pass it on to the next generation!
@Peter, yes good point – cleanliness=purity.
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.
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.
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….
live in New York and I choose to take off my shoes because it’s just more comfortable for me to walk around in socks and it’s a release after a long day at work. I jwish more people felt the same.
@Sakura, Sorry I missed your comment. I’m so happy you stopped by. How wonderful that your Obaasan taught you some recipes! Good to know that you are keeping up the Japanese traditions. Hope you try some of our recipes here too.
@Harry, How true…
@Mike, Good to hear you take off your shoes! Doesn’t it feel like your toes can breathe?!
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I had a job for a family they said they were from japan ..take shoes off..of course I did..in and out getting tools and supplys ..one time I forgot.the wife stopped me.I told her sorry I went back out took off shoes..when I came back in she hit the floor with a book..then let me in..do u have any idea why..or what book it was..I jus went back to work and told her I was sorry.
@jason, I have no idea what the book meant.
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I have been living with Asians since 18 when I joined the Marines. My ex was Philippino. Best friend is Thai, and former roomate is Korean. I was never allowed to where shoes in the home. I live alone now after 20 years and never where shoes in the home. Most museumes in Bangkok do not allow you to wear shoes. Good thing
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When I was little (in UK) we didn’t take shoes off when we went inside but we did take muddy boots off.
I remember my grandmother wearing slippers inside, but she’d keep them on if she went outside to do a job such as hanging washing out, which kind of defeats the ‘keep the floors clean’ aspect.
I started to take my shoes off about 12 years ago when spent most of one day cleaning carpets in my flat and then OH AND some friends came round while carpets were still damp. ‘Shoes off’ became the norm from then on.
I have slipped a bit with thus recently – no carpets to clean makes a difference I think (laminate flooring now). I do however insist that my children remove their shoes, and their friends do the same, but that’s because they have their feet all over the furniture! Being boys they always forget that the furniture is NOT a climbing frame!!
@John, living with Asians since 18, you must have these habits ingrained in you now. I think it’s a good one to keep.
@Helen, I agree, no carpets makes a huge difference when cleaning. But, still you never know where those shoes have been. I had to laugh reading about your boys. Everything is a climbing frame to them right?
I’m not Asian, but I’ve become a shoes-off person. Growing up, shoe removal was not required at our house, but optional. I followed that same philosophy in the first couple apartments I had on my own. But then, I moved into an apartment with brand-new, wall-to-wall beige carpeting. I remember the first full day I lived there. I decided to not wear shoes and enjoy the new carpet. I walked around in my socks all day as I was setting up my new place, and I just thought to myself, “This carpet is really comfortable to walk on in stocking feet.” I decided that day to not wear shoes at home anymore. I started taking my shoes off at the door, and 13 years later, I still do. It’s so relaxing, and a good way to leave the cares of the world behind. No shoes or slippers for me indoors. If you come by my house, feel free to join me in socks!
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I’m hoping you can help me. I live in a neighborhood with a couple of Chinese neighbors. I notice that on many occasions, they leave their screen door open instead of closing it.
Is there a custom for this? Thanks much
@JB – Thanks for sharing!
@Carolle – I can’t think of a custom for leaving a screen door open. My thought is they want more ventilation and somehow feel the screen obstructs this. If there is no worry about bugs, I guess there will be more air without the screen.
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I am planning a trip to Hawaii for a vacation and the house rules include no shoes. Is it considered rude or disrespectful to wear indoor house slippers? I have callouses on the balls of my feet as well as planter fasciitis which causes my feet to really hurt when I’m in a hard floor. Carpet isn’t too bad but this house is mostly hardwoods which I know from my own are uncomfortable. I wanted opinions before I contact the homeowner.
Thanks in advance.
@Shannon: indoor house slippers are very welcome. That’s what I do too when the floors are tile. They’re too hard and cold on my bare feet.
In Japan, actually, it’s more common to wear house slippers than to go barefoot. So, no problem at all. Have a great vacation!
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The Asian custom of removing one’s shoes at the door & believing that is good health practice to be barefoot is a wonderful one, & one that my family has always practiced & believe in. Our family is always barefoot in the house year-round. For as long as my sister Hannah & I can remember our home has always been(& still is to this day) a barefoot one, shoes & socks have never been allowed to be worn in our main living areas. While every family(household) is different & deciding whether or not to wear shoes/socks in the house(or allow them to be worn inside ) is up to you. Every family does what they believe is best for their family(household) & having a barefoot household is a wonderful experience. Two of my closest & dearest friends Tara & her husband Tom whom I went to high school & visit frequently also believe in the shoes off custom in their home. Tara’s house rule -if you are in her home you are barefooted no exceptions. The same can be said for my other two really close personal friends Deanna & her boyfriend Andy. Deanna’s apartment rule- if you are in her/ their apartment you are barefooted no exceptions.
@steven That’s great that your family does it year round. They say barefoot is better for your health too, but it gets so cold here that I can’t do that. Keep it up!
Ummmm, I have a job which requires entering over 1000 homes per year. I’ve been asked to remove my shoes in homes with floors so filthy my socks picked up dirt. There has to be more to this than just not tracking in outside dirt – one can wipe shoes on a mat and have less dirt than on some floors.
I’m English and my parents brought us up that you never wore shoes indoors, no matter whose home you were in, and we either go bare foot or wear slippers. But we’re a family of reflexologists and massage therapists and understand how important the energy and points on the feet are. In my porch I have a sign that clearly states ‘NO SHOES!’, and there’s a rack to place your shoes and a seat to remove them, though some people ignore this, and I actually find it very offensive when people enter my bhuddist home with their shoes on! And not just because I have cream carpets. I would not wear shoes in someone else’s home and would take slippers. I think it is becoming more fashionable in the UK as more people go for the White, uncluttered, sterile type decor &I have pristine white or cream carpets, personally I feel it’s a good practice to leave the dirt
& negativity of the outside world, just there – outside, peace ~j~
The really hard part we face is our maintenance staff have to work in boots and can’t remove shoes or boots or slip on the slippers the Japanese residents ask us to put on. This is a 400 unit apartment complex in Kentucky and as we respect that shoes need to be removed as a safety regulation to work on furnaces, plumbing and other things we can’t do this. The language barrier is hard to convey this. Is there a way to speak to our Japanese residents letting them know that in order for us to enter there home and make repairs shoes must stay on.
@Alan and @Carrie – why not carry shoe covers, the disposable type that realtors use.
@Carrie – Yes, just tell them, for safety reasons we must keep shoes on, it’s the rule. Japanese are strict about rules, so they’ll understand. Have you staff bring those covers too, that is the easiest solution
@Caralama – I think it’s great that you have a rack and seat for your guests! They should respect your wishes, but sometimes they are so used to not removing their shoes, it’s not that they are ignoring it, they don’t see it. Just gently remind them.
I’m not Asian, but I’ve adopted the same practice in my own home. I grew up in a house where there were no rules about wearing shoes inside, and got a place of my own almost two years ago. For the sake of keeping the carpets clean, I decided shortly after moving that I would try not wearing shoes.
A couple of weeks later, it became a habit that I continue to this day. The shoes come off first thing at the door and I walk around my house in socks. Living in New York City, it makes perfect sense when you see what’s in our streets here, and really, who wouldn’t want to be comfortable in their own home?
@JD: Great to hear it’s become a habit! Keep it up.
Thank you for your article, could you please tell me:
If you are visiting a home and they are expecting you is it OK to ring the doorbell and then take off your shoes before someone answers the door or should I wait to be invited in and then take off my shoes? If I take off my shoes first I end up standing at the door in my socks which feels weird and presumptive while if I wait until they open the door then they have to hold the door open while I take my shoes off….
@Emma , Sorry for not responding earlier. I suggest waiting to take your shoes off after you are invited in. It’s not awkward at all to have them wait while you remove your shoes. Usually in Japan, they have a small entry space just for that purpose.
hi jenny do china wear shoes? Thanks Julie
@Julie, The Chinese also remove their shoes in their homes.
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I’m in northern USA. I’ve noticed that in homes where family’s remove shoes before entering the carpet smells like stinky feet . It’s not uncommon for northern USA people to have feet that smell bad. It’s treatment is to soak feet in warm water with apple cider vinegar and either pine essential oil or lavender essential oil or both. The pine treats pain and inflammation and swelling . The lavender calms mood and pain in ankles. This needs to be repeated often.
Oh I forgot to mention , the apple cider vinegar is to treat a yeast that Americans, often have in their feet because of eating so much processed sugar .
@saunter. Thanks for your natural remedies for stinky feet! We all do perspire quite a bit through our feet, so it’s understandable. Changing socks often helps too!
I have a roommate who is Asain American, who lived in china for about 4 years when he was younger. I agree to take off my shoes for the rest of our school year while we lived together. He tricked me and said that includes moving in also. He said, I am not allowed to wear my shoes when I move in. We both pay equal prices and I agree to respect his request for the school year but he thinks I am disrespecting him if my culture and the whole house wears shoes to move in. Who is in the wrong? I requesting one day to use my shoes but in reality I don’t have to take them off at all, When the house over rules him. However, we agree to follow the rules after move in day. What should I do?
@hawkins.223 It’s wonderful that you accommodate your roommate’s customs.
In Asia, regardless if it’s one day or not, just coming into the house with shoes brings in lots of dirt and grime. So, even when we move house we do remove shoes.
But, I understand your reasoning. Moving day is crazy and you just want to get it done. Tell him that you both should just vacuum and mop immediately after moving in. As long as it’s not a wet rainy day, it should be fine.
Maybe have a mat at the door and lay down old towels and paper bags to cover the areas you will be most concerned with. That may be enough to satisfy him. Life is a compromise.
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Hello. I’ve been wondering for a while…What do you do if you have various pairs of shoes? Do Japanese people not keep their shoes in their rooms?
Or rather, Asian people in general (I was searching for Japanese etiquette before coming here.)
@Mieya, Shoes that are used often are kept near the entry. Other seasonal shoes are usually stored.
I have never been to any Asian country, but I have always lovd their culture. My mother has always had the rule of no shoes in the house. 33 years ago, I was diagnosed with having diabetes. Since then, I have developed neuropathy, and can no longer feel my feet. Furthermore, I wear socks every minute of every day for circulation purposes.. I miss being able to go completely barefoot. I still remove my shoes before entering my home, and insist any visitors to do the same. At first, they looked at me strangely, but have always honored my wishes, and followed my rule.
@Chad, your mother was very practical and must have liked a clean floor! Sorry to hear about your diagnosis and that you can no longer feel your feet. It’s great to hear that you remove your shoes and all your visitors follow your rule. Thanks for spreading this custom! take care
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