November 28, 2011 by Geoff
Taking a quick comfort break at last weekend’s Mumeishi Taikai, I was horrified to see a number of contestants standing on the wet men’s toilet floor with bare feet. As most women will testify, men are often guilty of aiming errors, so the fluid on the floor may not have been water. Without thinking about the reigi aspects of bare feet in a toilet, there are obvious hygiene dangers, and I know of cases where people have developed nasty infections from skin contact with suspicious liquids. Having just spent some time in Japan where there are precise shoe and slipper protocols, I was even more perplexed to see people risk their own and other peoples’ health in this way.If you are not familiar with Japanese shoe etiquette it normally works like this. You take off your shoes in the genkan (lobby) of a house or business. You put on slippers to walk on wooden floors, you take them off to walk on tatami and when you visit the toilet, you step into toilet slippers or clogs that stay inside the toilet door. I am sure that even the most culturally tolerant Japanese people, have private nightmares at the thought of an inexperienced foreign guest clumping back into a tatami room still wearing the toilet clogs. In a kendo context we think of the dojo floor as sacred and normally clean it before and after keiko. In Japan shoes are left outside the dojo, either in a kutsu bako, shoe rack or at the threshold of the dojo. We step straight onto the dojo floor in bare feet and often change inside the dojo itself or in a room inside the dojo. If that is the case then shoes stay off. If we have to change in a remote changing room, then typically some footwear needs to be worn between changing room and dojo. In the UK we invariably use buildings where changing facilities are separate from the hall in which we practise. In this case we need to wear something on our feet to go from one to the other, particularly if we plan to use the toilet facilities on the way. It can be trying to take shoes on and off in this situation and it is worth investing in zori or sandals that can easily be slipped on and off. There is no hard and fast rule as to what you wear. Having personally owned several pairs of Japanese seta that appear to have walked off on their own, I am now the proud owner of a pair of Primark flip-flops, which do the job for the price of £2.50. They are also waterproof.