Japanese Genkan: The Traditional Hallway Where Shoes Are Removed

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Ever wondered what the name of the place on the door is where the Japanese take off their shoes before entering houses? In this article, we are going to talk about the famous Genkan and its importance in Japanese culture and in every house in Japan.

What is a Genkan?

Genkan (玄関) is a hall or area at the entrance of Japanese houses, buildings and other establishments. This area can be small or large, have a hallway, balcony and even a room. 

The word genkan can refer to any entrance, the ideogram (玄) means mysterious, hidden and (関) means connection and barrier. In this article, we will see some curiosities and information about this entrance in Japanese houses.

Genkan - entrance hall where the Japanese take off their shoes

The main purpose of the genkan is to prevent dirt and dust from entering the house. It is usually built unevenly with the floor of the house, where shoes are usually taken off and slippers on to enter the house. 

It is part of Japanese culture to take off your shoes when entering homes and some establishments in Japan. This location also serves as a barrier for some visitors who do not want to enter the house.

When you take off your shoes and sneakers to enter the house, you can leave them in the genkan facing you to make it easier to put them on when leaving the house. These entrance halls usually have a shoe rack where residents put their shoes. 

Genkan - the entrance to the house where Japanese people take off their shoes

To enter the house you wear a shoe called a uwabaki or a slipper called a surippa. People avoid stepping barefoot or in socks on the bottom of the genkan.

The culture of Genkan

The genkan is found in all Japanese homes and also in schools, government buildings, castles, traditional restaurants, bathrooms and any building with or without tatami mats.  

In public places like schools, they are equipped with lockers for students to put on their sneakers and use their appropriate footwear to walk inside the school. In some places, shoes called uwabaki [上履き] or surippa [スリッパ]

This is the entrance that people can hide from the rain or where the pizza delivery and vendors are. The genkan can be found both externally and internally. In most cases there is a door followed by the entrance hall.

Usually from the genkan we have a step that leads to the establishment or house. This entrance hall also ends up being a strategic place for the cats break into your house and steal food.

Genkan - entrance hall where the Japanese take off their shoes

There is a culture surrounding this entrance to Japanese homes. Upon arriving at the house we make a formal greeting and walk to the inner concrete floor called tataki.

When we are invited into the house, we need to take off our shoes and go up to the shikidai (wood floor). In these traditional houses you access the yoritsuki (one room reserved for visitors).

The History of Genkan

It is believed that the custom of taking off your shoes before entering the house is over a thousand years old, since prehistoric times the Japanese made their homes on a raised floor. It has continued to the present, even after the westernization of the Japanese home.

Traditionally genkan involved entering Zen temples, so much so that the word of the idea of deep knowledge. With time the samurai began to build these entrance areas in their homes and today it has become mandatory in every home.

Genkan - entrance hall where the Japanese take off their shoes

There is a great deal of symbolism surrounding the interior and exterior of the house, so much so that there are different types of specific genkan throughout Japanese history. This access area is considered the most prestigious part of the house!

In addition to shoes, you should leave umbrellas, coats, hats and other objects that do not need to enter the house. It is worth remembering that it is not just in the genkan that we end up changing shoes, some houses use special shoes to access areas such as bathrooms.

Westerners also often use a Entrance Hall even if for other purposes. We suggest trying to create a Entrance Hall at home even with little space. In it you can store clothes, hats, umbrellas, external objects and much more.

We recommend reading:

Videos about Genkan

Hope you enjoyed this article, what do you think of the Entrance Hall? We appreciate the comments and shares. To finish, watch some videos about the traditional Japanese Entrance Hall:

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