For many people, coming to Hokkaido is not just about the amazing snow in winter or the great outdoor life of summer; experiencing Japanese culture is a big part of their holiday. Learning to understand some basic Japanese customs will help you appreciate where you are and help you fit in with the locals.
Wearing shoes insides houses and some offices or restaurants is not done. Inside the village, it is usually only onsens (hot springs) and your accommodation where you’ll have to be particularly careful to remove your shoes. This is especially important in winter with so much snow around.
Slippers are often used inside houses, restaurants and onsens – anywhere you’ve had to take your shoes off. Do not confuse the regular slippers with ‘toilet slippers’, which are to be found inside the toilet area and only used within that area. Many a foreigner has made the embarrassing mistake of wearing toilet slippers out into the main area of a restaurant.
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 that 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 a 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.
Another point is that walking barefoot is believed to have health benefit. 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.