When visiting someone’s home in Japan, you will almost always run into a genkan (玄関), or an entrance hall. The host will welcome you into this space inside the building before further proceeding inside the house. The fundamental purpose of this area is to take off your shoes. As with many Asian cultures, taking off the outdoor shoes is a custom Japanese people follow as well. Still, this culture can be surprising to some visitors outside of Japan. Find out below what you can expect to see in a Japanese genkan and about the places other than homes that you may also find genkan in Japan.
What you can expect to find in a Japanese genkan
As mentioned above, genkan is an entrance hall located right after you enter the entrance door of a home. You will immediately notice shoes and a getabako (下駄箱), or shoe rack. Japanese genkan is usually not in level with the floor of the actual home. Instead, a slight step-up from the entrance floor acts as a separation between genkan and the living space.
Things other than shoes can be found within the genkan space. For convenience, many Japanese people keep their inkan (印鑑), or the seal that is commonly used as an equivalent to signatures, in entrance halls for receiving mail or package deliveries. Some people also place their keys and store umbrellas here as well.
Genkan in places other than Japanese homes
Some common places other than homes that you can expect to take off your shoes are in schools, Japanese inns, and specialty restaurants,
In schools, with an exception to postsecondary institutions, all students take off their outdoor shoes to slip into their indoor shoes. To accommodate all the students, faculty, and guests, the entrance hall at schools are large with rows of shoe storage.
At Japanese inns, shoes are usually taken off at the entrance hall. As a traditional form of accommodation, sitting and sleeping areas in the rooms are traditionally on the tatami (畳) floors. Walking around in these rooms with shoes on is reasonably inappropriate.
In some restaurants, usually specialty Japanese eateries with floor seatings, there is an entrance hall to take off the shoes. Depending on the restaurant, some have shoe storage spaces. Occasionally, visitors are surprised to come across these types of restaurants. If you are particularly looking to experience floor seatings in restaurants, look for restaurants with ozashiki (お座席) seatings.
Tips and overview
Aside from the sanitation and just the comfort of removing outdoor shoes, this custom of taking off the shoes is part of the Japanese culture. Traditionally, tatami floors were common in living spaces where people sit and sleep directly on the floor. In respect of keeping these spaces clean, it makes perfect sense to take off the outdoor shoes. When visiting Japan, you will likely encounter at least one place the requires taking off your shoes. Below are some tips that will be useful to keep in mind before approaching a genkan.
Tips for Genkan or Entrance Hall
- Tip #1 Have presentable, clean socks on. You or the surrounding people don’t want to see dirty socks. Check for holes beforehand to avoid embarrassment.
- Tip #2 For entrance halls in public places, check around to see if other people’s shoes are placed on the floor or in shoe storage.
- Tip #3 Be respectful to the host and other guests by placing your shoes neatly and well-aligned whether on the floor or in shoe storage. Avoid filling up the space that will make walking through the entrance difficult for you and others.
Some places provide slippers, while other places don’t. Just observe what other people proceed to do when entering a genkan and easily find the appropriate thing to do whenever you encounter a genkan.