Two Kinds

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I had an idea for a series of posts based on the “there are two kinds of people in the world” concept, but reduced down to Japanese life. Today the two kinds of people are: those who enter forward, and those who enter backwards.

Japanese homes are traditionally designed with a genkan (玄関), which is a type of entry hall which is designed with high and low portions. When entering a home we should remove our shoes, leaving them on the lower (dirty) floor, and step up into the higher (clean) area. Many homes will have slippers for their guests when they are inside. Many small town community halls and schools are still designed this way as well, but most stores have long since moved to a more western standard.

Another feature of Japanese homes is the toilet room. Unlike the normal American bathroom which contains bathing (clean) and waste expulsion (dirty) functions in the same area, the Japanese toilet room is just a small closet containing a toilet and often a sink for hand washing. When entering the toilet room it is expected that the house slippers should be left outside the door and one should wear bathroom slippers. This is also true in many businesses and public halls. In this case there will be several pairs of slippers waiting in the toilet room, because there are many toilets.

Now, coming to our main point: entering/exiting a room forward or backward determines which way your slippers/shoes are facing. Let’s look at the toilets first. (eww, that sounded a little gross.) If you enter the toilet room facing forward then, when you are leaving, your slippers will have to be turned around before you put them on. Alternately, you could turn around and step over them – and then slip your feet inside. Likewise, if you exit while facing out, you leave a hassle for the next user.

Typically when you enter a toilet in someone’s home, you will find the mouth of the slippers yawning invitingly at your feet. In public restrooms this will generally be the case immediately after the cleaning lady has put things in order, but varies widely by location and time of day.

Like so many things in life, I think this difference really refines down to: people who think about others, and those who think about themselves (or don’t think about anything). Another thought that strikes me is: ability to think about the future vs. only being aware of ones immediate situation.

So, which are you?

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