By Eve Corbett ’17
“Please take off your shoes at the door” said Kyoko, my host mother for the next ten months, as I stepped into my new home for the first time. The Japanese equivalent of a mudroom is a small area covered in tile with a wooden step up to the rest of the house. On the tile were multiple sets of shoes, all whose toes were facing the door. I removed my shoes as I was asked and placed my feet on the tile. Kana and Rina, my new sisters age 16 and 8, look at Kyoko uneasily. Since Kyoko is the only one in my home who speaks English, she explained to me my error.
“We don’t stand on this tile without wearing shoes” she says as she glances uncomfortably down at my feet. I apologize quickly and step up onto the wooden floor. She smiles warmly at me and assures me that it is okay since it is only my first day in this home.
After our shoes were off we headed straight to the bathroom, removed our socks, and stepped into the shower to rinse off our feet. Not all people in Japan wash their feet when they arrive home, but the my host family family does. After doing this we stepped out and washed our hands at the sink. Most homes in Japan do this.
This was my first experience with Japanese customs of this kind, but it is certainly not my last. There are many customs to do with cleanliness in Japan. You may have heard about the infamous washlet toilets, an oddity rarely seen outside of Japan. These toilets poses various otherwise unheard of features such as heated seats and air deodorizers. You can choose to have water sprayed at you instead of wiping and there is a dryer built into the toilet for afterwards. Japanese creations are truly remarkable.
Toilets aside, the bathroom holds another major aspect of Japanese cleanness: the bath. The Japanese bath (ofuro) is a wonderful way to relax after a busy day in Japan. A person is expected to take a bath every day and truthfully it would be hard to not take one everyday with Japan’s level of humidity. The bathwater is a little hotter and the tub is deeper but the main distinction between Japanese and American baths is that one does not truly bath in a Japanese bathtub. You just soak. In truth the cleaning component comes in before you even enter the tub! If you are going to take a bath in Japan then you must first take a shower. The shower is taken outside of the bathtub on the drainable floor where you soap up and rinse down just like any normal shower. Once you are free of any dirt or soap you can enter the bathtub and soak for a few minutes. The reason for this is that the bath water is only changed once a day so all family members will be soaking in the same bathwater during different points. So, in order to keep this from being kinda gross, you must be clean before you soak. Just think of it as a daily soak in a small hot-tub.
These are only some of the examples of cleanliness in Japan. Others include receiving a warm hand towel before your meal at restaurants, folding up your futon during the daytime, and wearing a face mask when you are sick so that you have less of a chance of infecting others. Sometimes extensive amounts of cleanliness can make a culture seem a little conceited but in Japan’s case this is not so. Japan’s cleanliness, although sometimes daunting to foreigners, creates a healthy and welcoming atmosphere in Japan. Japanese people are clean and neat not just for their personal preferences, but also for others. Japanese people has a slightly different way of thinking than the rest of the world. They think not just for themselves but for the group as a whole.
Eve Corbett is a junior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Okayama, Japan with Greenheart Travel. She is the daughter of Jody Corbett and Elizabeth Proffetty of Newcastle.