Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shoe madness!

For anyone that’s not familiar with Japanese culture you may not be aware of the social protocols that go hand in hand with shoes.

Unlike Western culture where shoes are just as much a fashion statement as the clothes you wear, here in Japan you could wear hessian sacks on your feet and no one could care (well where we live and work anyway... I’m sure if you were in Tokyo with the millions of fashion savvy youths it might be a different story).

In Western culture it’s totally acceptable to wear your shoes inside, be it in a house, school, church etc. But in Japan shoes are really only worn to get to and from places and are generally taken off as soon as you get to where you are going and then replaced with a pair of “inside shoes”.

Having to take your shoes off everywhere you go has its up sides... like the house is always cleaner because you’re not traipsing dirt etc in from outside, you don’t have to worry if they match your outfit seeing as you’ll be taking them off anyway and one pair of shoes can last for a ridiculous amount of time.

However, having to take them off everywhere you can also has its down sides... like the smell! Come summer time when it’s 30 odd degrees outside and you’re sweating like a pig being in a room with 25 kids all without shoes on can be a little over powering! Then there’s the chaos at your front door of having various pairs of shoes lined up waiting for their next outing... not so bad when there’s just two of us but if you’ve got visitors and the genkan (the place where you take your shoes off) is as small as ours it gets a little out of control! Not to be out done of course by the frantic few minutes or so that inevitably takes place at a restaurant when it comes time to try and find your shoes again only to discover that they are no longer where you took them off (luckily on all the occasions this has happened the waiter has simply moved them).

One place I do think the “no shoes inside” policy has been taken a little over the edge is at school. In all likelihood every school has different rules about this but at one of my Junior High Schools I really think it’s gone a little far... as in it’s regulation that every student has a grand total of five pairs of shoes all of which are worn at different stages during the day!

So let me break it down for you: each student has a pair of “outside” shoes (usually the latest Nike or Adidas sneakers in the most garish colours you’ve ever seen) that they wear to and from school. Once they get to school they then put on their “inside” shoes (plastic slip-on ugly things... they all wear identical ones but can choose either green or blue) that they wear for the majority of the day in the majority of classrooms.

But this is where things get a little out of control for my liking... if they are going into a classroom that is lucky enough to have carpet on the floor (like the computer room or library) they must take off their “inside” shoes and put on a special pair of “carpet only” shoes (again every student has the exact same pair).

Shoe number four comes in if they are going to the gym. Now this is quite a process as they first have to take off their “inside” shoes and put on their “outside” shoes for the 5 metre (literally it’s only that far) walk to the gym. Once there they must then take off their “outside” shoes and put on their “gym” shoes (again these are regulation school uniform shoes so they all wear identical ones). This marathon effort is then repeated once they have finished in the gym and head back to the main school building.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more ridiculous they then have yet another pair of shoes they must change into when they have science class or food technology etc... these shoes are proper shoes as opposed to the open-toed slip on ones they wear to other classes, I guess as a safety thing.

Of course no trip to the toilet would be complete without a shoe change too! Which I guess in actual fact brings the total to six pairs of shoes! Whenever they go to the toilet they must take off their “inside” shoes and put on special “toilet” shoes. It’s not uncommon to see a queue of students a mile long outside the bathroom waiting for the special “toilet” shoes they must put on before they can enter.

If it sounds complicated that’s because it is!

In case you’re interested that means there are around 2,000 shoes on the school grounds at any one time!!