Reduce allergies and asthma by taking off your shoes.
THE FIRST American consul to Japan, Townsend Harris, shocked Japanese in the mid-nineteenth century by walking straight into Edo Castle to meet the shogun without removing his shoes.
Foreign visitors unfamiliar with Japanese customs even today can easily startle or even anger their hosts by walking into a home without taking off their shoes at the door.
The Japanese and many other Asian cultures share a common practice of shedding their shoes. This tradition is not based on some quirk, but a clear sense for the desire for cleanliness in a place where high rainfall and a damp climate would quickly dirty a home or other building should people not remove their shoes.
Certainly, a strong contributing factor was the custom of sleeping and sitting on the floor. Who wants their face or butt on a dirty floor?
I first became aware of the high regard the Japanese have for cleanliness when I was fixated sometime in college by James Clavel’s novel, Shōgun. Based upon the trials and tribulations of English seamen shipwrecked in 17th century Japan, this ragged group were referred to as “barbarians” by the Japanese, mostly due to their stench.
In addition to keeping a clean house, the Japanese have always had a tradition of bathing. For more than a thousand years, those Europeans who could afford it used cologne to mask their body odors, rather than bathe. It was difficult and expensive to heat the water, and it was thought that bathing would lead to illness (flu and colds).
So, turns out that taking off one’s shoes prior to entering a house is a really good idea. Shoes carry lead, arsenic, pesticides and other evil compounds indoors. Once inside, these pernicious chemical cocktails get absorbed in household dust.
Have asthma or allergies? Dust is a common asthma/allergy trigger. (Try a neti cup, as this four-year old demonstrates.) But wiping shoes on a high quality, rough doormat reduces indoor dust by 86%. Leaving those Wellingtons outside does even a better job.
One more thing to think about. Is it not a good thing to take a moment at the front door to remove your shoes to contemplate that you’re leaving the outside world and entering your private, tranquil space (unless you have kids)?
[If this is a topic of interest, find out all anyone would ever want to know about removing one's shoes at Shoes Off At The Door, Please.]
Published on May 12, 2010