Discussing the Japanese Pop-culture and tradition

    NEWS: "How to walk in Japan"


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    Join date : 2011-05-26
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    Announc NEWS: "How to walk in Japan"

    Post by Serge on Tue Jun 21, 2011 10:56 am

    Back in 2005 I had a relative living close to Yokohama; Japan. She gave me the opportunity to go over there on vacations. At that time I barely had any idea about how to behave inside the Japanese society, however, after watching many Anime series, playing some Japanese video games (blind-play), and studying a bit of Japanese, I found “some” easy-tips and manners to test in front of other people, after all, I did not wanted to be seen as a rude dude.

    To tell you the truth, lots of tourist don’t follow the rules in Japan, probably because in our countries the law is less strict about everything, for instance; In Mexico back in 2005 nobody will scold you or get mad when you cross the street from the middle part while the green light for cars was on, as long as you “look at both sides”… I know it sounds very “old-fashioned” but it’s true, and many people still do it, on the contrary, in the US when you do something like that and a policeman spot you it can charge you up to 120 USD!!

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    Path bike by CulturaJapon

    In Japan crossing the street is a VERY important matter! One time; walking on a town called Ikego, I found myself amused by the small temples, shrines and graveyards so I thought it was OK to cross the street right on the spot, and not to wait till the next corner, during one of this occasions a policeman saw me doing it… OMG, I thought he was going to arrest me when he started running towards me ^^; but he just gave me a very long lecture about how dangerous it is to cross the street like I did… Nevertheless, my Japanese was very limited back then and his English was probably worse than my Turkish… (btw, I do not speak Turkish at all xD) so all I did was try reading his facial expressions and say “Hai” (agree) to everything he said until he let me go.

    After that, I decided to do some research about these special “rules” and “manners” to walk inside japan, even though many Japanese people will “let it pass” because you are a foreigner, I prefer not being rude to begin with; Just because you didn't know it was wrong, it does not makes it right especially when you are on a different country, I also knew; deep inside it is very important for them as well!

    First, I would like to introduce some of the manners that I believe are useful.

    NEWS: "How to walk in Japan" 5855764792_bd13d51e63_b
    Mikoshi Shoes by CulturaJapon

    Rule number 1: “Take off your shoes"

    Yes… It might sound repetitive but this is something everybody needs to know when you travel to Japan, not everywhere requires you to remove the shoes, but you do not want to putt yourself on a situation where your socks are in bad condition or worse ^^;… let’s be ready.

    Here are some examples of places where you will most likely need to remove your shoes in Japan:

    A Ryokan (Japanese style hotel):

    You might be thinking: why would I even go to a Ryokan if I can go to a western style hotel and keep my shoes? Well, simply because western style hotels are not abundant outside cities like Tokyo or Osaka, if you really want to meet Japan at its fullest, you can chose a Ryokan and spend a great night at very low prices (around 30 to 50 USD per night) while most western style hotels will go over 60 USD. So here is the tip: when you enter a hotel and see these “Small lockers” at the entrance, take a veery good look at them, if there are slippers inside that means you must remove your shoes and Exchange them with the slippers inside. Only then, you can freely walk inside that building, don’t worry about your shoes they won’t be stolen or anything and the slippers are 100% clean! After living for over a year on a dormitory, I guaranty it.

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    RyokanOsaka by CulturaJapon

    Schools (Elementary to high school):

    Most people already know about this fact, especially because it is shown on 50%~ of the Japanese Anime series and dramas, you probably saw how they change their shoes at the entrance lockers and wear 上履き (Iwabaki) or “indoor shoes” these are not only cheap but also super comfortable and anti-slip, so you can actually “Relax” and study inside the campus.

    Over tatami mats:

    Tatami floor is made of straw and cotton (sometimes even a wooden frame), it is VERY RUDE to step over it with your shoes on! >.<. You can find tatami mats in: Many houses in japan have at least 1 room with Tatami, this room is called “和室” (washitsu) or Japanese style room, and it’s necessary because that room is warmer during the winter. It also becomes the best place to relax and take a nap~ in the house. Tatami mats are soft but resistant, think of it like a stylish boxing ring… hahaha, they both absorb the impact and if you lay down for over 10 secs you will rather stay asleep. So, do you know what to do when going inside the Tatami room? Remove your slippers. ^^ On the particular case you enter a house, then exchange your shoes at the entrance for slippers and after that you get invited to a room, you will notice the difference on the floor level, but even if there is no difference, take off your slippers before stepping inside, don’t worry about the temperature, since tatami never gets too cold ;)

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    tatamiMM by CulturaJapon

    Another place where you will find Tatami floor is on Public baths, Spas and health resorts, but in this case you don’t have to worry about removing your shoes over and over, since you will most likely be barefoot all the time… if not, just remove your slippers before you walk inside the tatami room, but always check where you drop them, because many people will leave theirs at the entrance too, forgetting where you leave them is like when you forget where you parked your car, but funnier lol

    Dojos (Martial arts place):

    Most Japanese martial arts are held inside a Dojo, these places are considered “sacred” by the practitioners. They will bow at the entrance when going in and out, the principal reason for them to remove the shoes here, is to keep the place “clean”, the difference is how we perceive “clean” and how do they do it. At any rate, it is EXTREMELY RUDE to enter a Dojo with your shoes on!

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    Mikoshi Tatami Making by CulturaJapon

    You will definitely walk inside a Dojo on your socks, even when the floor is made of cold wood. For this scenario you might want to bring Tabi-socks (Japanese traditional split-toe socks) with you, if you are susceptible to low temperatures, since they have a thicker layer in contact with the floor. Its always good to be prepared.


    Only some restaurants require you to remove your shoes, this is more common when you are with a group of people (coworkers or friends) and they decide to ask for an individual/particular room, these rooms can fit many people inside on a more "intimate/private” way, so employees can talk about business or just have fun without being bothered by other customers and viceversa. Depending on the restaurant it can have Tatami floor or wooden floor, but remember, if you are going to japan for business, removing your shoes while you eat and/or drink can be a “Life and dead” issue ;)

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    Restaurant1 by CulturaJapon

    To help you decide whether or not to remove your shoes: Try letting you Japanese friends enter all rooms before you, and follow their example ^^

    Rule number 2: Watch your step (really)

    In Japan there are many signs that make you aware about “where” you can walk, stop, move, beware, etc. I will go over some important “rules” about walking around.


    When you are walking on a sidewalk and spot a bumpy yellow-line in the middle, please step out of it, it was made so blind people can follow it using a cane, if something or someone is blocking that path they might trip or worse. When an object like a bike is on the way, you are free to move it away ^^. Please watch this video; I added English and Spanish subtitles:

    Train/Subway Lines:

    There are either white or yellow lines at the train stations, these can be the same kind as the ones on sidewalks with little bumps that can be “felt” with under your feet, and you should not step on them, but there is also the line that prevents you from getting to close to where the train stops, same as on any train station around the world, with the only difference that, here you can see the exact place where the doors will open and you must line-up there, but more importantly wait for the people to come out the train -BEFORE- you can cross that line, it is a very simple but important rule. On a additional note: I recommend you watch out for the rush hour… in Tokyo it can be a really painful experience to ride on the train during this time, and by the way, is true that the station staff can literally “PUSH” you inside, as long as they are wearing these “white gloves” it does not count as harassment…

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    kiiroisen2 by CulturaJapon

    Automatic Stairways:

    It can get confusing depending on the area where you are, some areas use different rules, for example. In Kanto Area (Tokyo, Ibaraki, Saitama etc.) the “Fast Speed/Hurry” side is on the right while the Kansai Area (Osaka, Kobe, Nara, etc.) they use the Left as the “Fast side”.

    Signs and lines on the roads:

    Additional info:

    As a practitioner of Kyudo (traditional Japanese archery), I would like to share something that got my attention.

    The correct way to walk inside a Dojo of Kyudo: first you must wear Tabi-socks they are the best way to “protect” your feet from small wood chips or edges on the floor, because you literally perform “foot sliding” when you are going to shoot, naturally, if you do that barefoot, it will develop calluses on your feet so it’s better to wear some very thick-socks or Tabi-socks before trying.

    I hear a long time ago, Japanese Samurais did that same “foot sliding” movement, to keep a well balanced stance, and it was performed 100% barefoot; I can somehow imagine how hard the sole of their feet was!

    Here are some images of the movements you have to do when inside a Kyudo Dojo:

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    NEWS: "How to walk in Japan" 5855219739_78b2226482

    With this I finish this quick introduction to the walking rules and manners in Japan, I plan to talk about how to sit and some more manners in the near future!


    Here are some products you might find interesting after reading this article:

    Tatami Mats 4 Pieces set:

    Indoor shoes for School:

    White Tabi:

    Black Tabi:

    By Sergio Herrera Mercado

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