17 January 2012

The House of the Rising Sun

Japan is a neat place.  There are few countries in the world where fierce ancient traditions can coexist harmoniously with technology that's moving faster than the text message of a 15 year-old girl.  Seriously.  Tradition is one of the reasons I find myself lovesessed (if you will) with the Land of the Rising Sun.  I feel like there are too many places that are fully ready to abandon ship on their customs the moment "Westernization" gives them a foxy wink.  Therein lies the beauty of Japan.

Despite it's best attempts to swallow the practices of an ancient culture and spit out SUV's and apple pie, Westernization has lost.  Perhaps lost is too concrete a word.  Rather, the Japanese took the things that benefited them most and merged them with what was already working.  One of the best places to see evidence of this is in the Japanese home.

The first thing you'd notice upon being invited to a typical Japanese house is the presence of what's referred to as genkan.  Genkan are basically a place for you to remove your shoes and put on a pair of house slippers before you enter the main home.  The primary purpose is to prevent muddy or otherwise dirty shoes from tracking little goodies all over the place, but many believe that there's a psychological purpose as well.  When you walk into the home, remove your shoes and then step up into the space, you become a little bit aware of the fact that you are a guest in someones private home.  Ideally your behavior would reflect this new-found insight.  Ideally.

image property of http://en.wikipedia.org
image property of http://epegengripul.blogspot.com
Genkan are almost always made of an easily cleaned surface like tile or linoleum but sometimes, when the house is further away from the mega cities, the Genkan will have a concrete floor.  This makes it easier to sweep any dried debris right out the door and into the yard.  Interestingly, many schools and even some older businesses have genkan, but they usually have cubbyholes or lockers to store the shoes that would otherwise pile up.

Oh, and don't worry if you find yourself invited to dinner but you're without your own set of house slippers.  Most homeowners will have slippers at the ready for guests.  However, if you have big ol' feet (or feet that are particularly...um...pungent) you may want to hurry out and buy a pair your own.  Just make sure the socks you're wearing come from the same matched set.

Or, if you insist on wearing mismatched socks, at least make sure they're artfully mismatched.


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