genkan: entryway

 

lower and upper levels of house entryway

Good etiquette here: Shoes on the lower level, barefooted guests on the upper level. Shoes are turned so toes point to the door (off to the left in this photo).

 

genkan of youth hostel

Again, shoes belong on the lower concrete level; clean bare feet, socked or slippered feet belong on the wooden panels. This hostel has a shelf for storing shoes once you take them off.

 

genkan with shoe box

Many houses also have a shelf or cabinet for storing shoes. Notice the pairs of in-house slippers prepared for stepping into, once you've taken off your shoes and stepped up.

 

barefooted and socked guests on lower level

Oh no! This is very bad etiquette! NEVER step on the lower level of the genkan without shoes.

The genkan is the foyer or entryway of the house.

In Japanese houses, the genkan always has two levels. The first, lower level is where you step onto as you step through the front door. It may be made of tile, concrete, stone, (or packed dirt in a very old traditional house). This is the level where it is OK to step with your regular shoes. In fact, you should remember NEVER TO STEP onto this lower level WITHOUT your shoes! In other words, never step onto this lower level in bare feet or socked feet, or while wearing inside-the-house slippers. This would be a major taboo in Japan, because Japanese people make a major fuss about what is pure versus impure, or clean versus dirty. This is a deeply-rooted idea that stems from Shinto religion.

The second level of the genkan is the higher level, one or two steps above the lower part of the genkan. (This higher level of the genkan is the same height as the rest of the first floor of the house). At any rate, this higher level is the part you step onto once your shoe is off. Yes, this can be awkward! If you take off your right shoe first, then your right (bare or socked) foot must land ONLY on the upper level of the genkan, while your left foot (still in your shoe) is on the lower level.

As a well-mannered guest, you should always take a moment to take your shoes and turn them around 180 degrees so that the toes are now pointed towards the front door. You might also want to move them to the side to make room for guests who come after you.

Most of your Japanese hosts will offer you slippers to wear once your shoes are off and you are standing on the upper level. Unless your feet are too large for the slippers offered, you should put them on because it is so customary to do so. Note that when you are invited as a guest to someone's house in Japan, you should be sure to wear nice socks, or you may be embarrassed about the holes in the toes!


Design features of a traditional Japanese house

tokonoma: decorative alcove | genkan: entryway | shoji and fusuma: paper wall panels | butsudan: Buddhist altar | kamidana: Shinto altar | ofuro-ba: bathing room | oshi-ire: closets

Other links

test yourself | model-building project | traditional Japanese house HOME PAGE