Japan has become famous for its high-tech, luxury bidet toilets, but before those were invented, before Western toilets existed at all in Japanese homes, most toilets were outfitted with Japanese-style toilets, simple structures that are basically a porcelain hole in the floor where users must squat to do their business.
The nature of these toilets, dubbed by many English speakers as “the squatty potty”, means they tend to be somewhat messy to use, with a serious threat of spills and accidents. That’s why donning a pair of slippers specifically meant for the toilet upon entering the room has become common practice among Japanese households.
These toilets do, of course, still exist to this day in older buildings like schools, public facilities, and even some old hotels, but these days they’ve largely been replaced in private homes by the more Western style sit-down toilet, a much more sanitary option. But that leads us to the following question: Do we still need to don special slippers when going into the toilet if the toilet is Western style?
Survey company Otona Answer asked 2,000 Yahoo! Japan users to find out. The survey posed the question of whether they think slippers are necessary for household toilets, and the in the end 61.3 percent said yes, and 38.7 percent said no.
Of those who said slippers are a must, when asked why 74.5 percent said not having them is unsanitary. Another 13.8 percent claimed it was rude not to have them on hand for guests, and about 9 percent referenced tradition, saying “It’s something we’ve always done.”
Of those who said slippers weren’t needed, nearly half (47.7 percent) said that their toilet mat replaced the need for slippers, but let’s talk about that. Otona Answer also asked a housecleaning expert, Terue Ariga, to weigh in on the question of whether slippers are needed in the toilet. Ariga said that toilets themselves are unsanitary, as there is always the danger of splattering urine, and added that if the toilet is flushed with the lid left open. That allows plenty of unsanitary particles to be scattered onto the area around the toilet, and so a a mat doesn’t make as much of a difference as some people might think. Instead of falling on the floor, those particles are falling on the mat, which we then track around the house if we’re stepping on the mat in our socks or with bare feet. The whole point of having a pair of slippers to wear only in the toilet is to keep the spread of those dirty particles in the other parts of your house to minimum.
As for more reasons why the toilet slipper naysayers said they didn’t need slippers, 4.3 percent said they disliked sharing the same pair of slippers with other family members, a good quarter (25.7 percent) simply said that it was because wearing slippers is annoying, and another 12.7 percent said that they didn’t like slippers being one more thing to clean. In fact, not that many people appear to clean their slippers. Only 49.9 percent of those who had toilet slippers said they “Sometimes” clean them when cleaning the toilet. 20.7 percent said they always clean them, but even more, 29 percent, said they don’t clean them at all, which begs the question: is it worth using them at all in that case?
The increase in “unit baths,” rooms that contain both a shower and toilet, may be also be causing fewer people to use toilet slippers, Ariga believes. While such a configuration is very common in some other countries, in Japan the toilet and shower were traditionally kept in separate rooms, for sanitary reasons. However, with the advent of space-saving city apartments, more and more homes now have a combined bathroom, and many of them are also very small, so slippers left for use in the room get in the way.
Yet, in spite of this, Ariga believes that toilet slippers are still necessary, as they do have at least a small effect on how many of those icky toilet particles and germs are transported between the toilet and the rest of the house. Just don’t forget to clean or replace them periodically.
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