The Barefoot Blogger

According to a survey I read recently (the Japanese love surveys, and the newspapers are full of them) the two aspects of Japanese life that foreigners who have lived in Japan want to maintain when they return home are no shoes inside the house and Japanese style bathing.  To understand why, both of these customs need a little more explanation, so if you are interested I'll explain (if not, feel free to leave an insult before navigating away - I do so enjoy your shining wit (as the good Dr Spooner would have said)).


Traditionally the Japanese home has had very little in the way of furniture, and people would sit and sleep on the floor, eating from low tables.  To make the most of what space they had, furniture had to be packed away, the bedding rolled up in the morning and pushed into a closet, and the trappings of daily life taken out in the morning and put away before taking the bedding out at night.  Flooring was traditionally woven grass panels called tatami, which are very comfortable to sit on but are relatively fragile.  Because so much life takes place at floor level, the Japanese were very concerned about the cleanliness of their floors.  Shoes used in the dust and grime of the street were (and still are) strictly banned from the inside of the house. 


There is usually a small area just inside the front door of a Japanese house that is considered to be 'outside' (the genkan) where visitors can remove their shoes before entering the house itself.  No-one would even dream of coming in without taking off their shoes - for example, when our washing machine and fridge were delivered, the delivery men slipped off their shoes as they pushed the appliances into our house.  It is just unthinkable for a Japanese to go inside still wearing their outside shoes.  This is extends to places such as dentists and doctors, where public slippers are provided for the patients convenience (although not to offices and schools - I assume because it would not be practical in these places, although I am not certain of that).


When the Portuguese first visited Japan in the 16th Century, they were shocked at the amount of time the Japanese spent bathing.  Much like the Romans, the Japanese treated the bath as a social experience and at hot spring resorts (Japan is one of the most volcanically active countries in the world) to some extent they still do, although mixed bathing is no longer a feature of Hot Spring resorts.  For the Japanese the pleasure of the bath lies in soaking and relaxing, and Japanese baths are designed to facilitate this.  Washing takes place outside the bath, which is only entered once you are completely clean.  The bathwater is usually shared (certainly in public baths) with family and guests, and getting soap in the bathwater is frowned on.  Most bathrooms have a tiled floor with a gutter by the bath, and a shower outside the bath.  Bathers either use the shower, or a bowl for scooping hot water from the bath, and clean themselves thoroughly before getting into the bath to soak.


Our bath seems a technological marvel to me - I set the depth I require and the temperature I want on a control panel beside the bath, and leave it to fill.  When it is ready, the system playes a little jingle to let me know, and maintains the depth and temperature for as long as I require, constantly heating the water or pumping in new water to keep the temperature and depth I have set.  If I want a good long soak, the bath keeps conditions perfect for me - no chilling of the bathwater, no worrying the water might overflow,  it is all controlled from the little panel next to the bath.


On the subject of technological marvels, next to the toilet is a control panel that would not have looked out of place on the bridge of captain Kirk's Enterprise.  This is an apt simile, as the function is of course to get rid of those pesky 'cling-ons' (sic).  Though not universal, the 'shower toilet' or 'washlet' is a common feature of Japanese homes.  From the captains chair you can select the direction of fire, to the rear or forward for female commanders, the strength and temperature of the beam and wide field or narrrow beam settings.  There are several other controls there, all marked with incomprehensible characters so I know there are more functions, but given the delicate nature of the anatomical areas concerned, I am not tempted to experiment - the might read 'steam cleaning - warning do not use while sitting!'  (please excuse the excursion into lavatorial drollery; these jokes have been with me since early school days, and the opportunity was just too tempting - I will draw the line at the 'Captians log' jokes however).


If you have got this far, thank you for taking the time to read about this little slice of Japanese life.  You have been a most patient reader :)

Uploaded 07/24/2009
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