Travel books and cultural musings – late night fragments of armchair travelling.
Today I read something about Japanese culture that I found truly enchanting. It has to do with the Japanese habit of taking outdoor shoes off when entering a building and, more specifically, with the reason why you should take care of leaving your shoes in an orderly manner, whenever you take them off.
I got this piece of info from a book that I am reading now: it’s called For Fukui’s Sake: Two years in rural Japan, which is a lighthearted, pleasant book by Sam Baldwin about his to years in Japan as an English teacher.
In Japanese culture it is considered polite and a sign of respect to take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. This is true if you are entering a private home, but it is often also true if you are entering a school or an office – outside shoes must be taken off and, for the duration of your visit, you are expected to wear indoor shoes, usually provided by your host.
I knew about this habit before reading the book and I even remember having work meeting in Tokyo in full office attire and slippers. What I did not know was the reason behind this shoe etiquette.
According to Sam Baldwin, in Fukui’s temple you can read:
Arranging our shoes neatly, we bring harmony to our minds, when our minds are harmonious, we arrange shoes neatly. If we arrange shoes neatly when we take them off, our minds won’t be disturbed when we put them on. If someone leaves shoes in disarray, let us silently set them to order. Such an act surely will bring harmony to the minds of people around the world.”
I found this piece of zen wisdom absolutely enchanting and an incredible window on Japanese culture.
I am not a particularly tidy person, despite moments when mild OCD behaviours take hold of me. But I love the idea that you can bring peace to your mind and even to someone else’s mind with simple, mindful gestures. I love to think that there is a country in the world, where my incessant effort to keep my kids’ shoes tidy is not considered a vain attempt to keep the house livable but a gesture of love.
I was only in Japan once, for work, and for only one week: it’s clear to me, that I must got back. It might be my spiritual home.