Thursday, June 29, 2006

Visiting the toilet slippers

Three photo-entries from Japan today, and they're all about bathrooms! Gotta get this stuff out of the way first, oddly, it's the first thing people seem to want to know about.

We stayed in two ryokans, traditional Japanese inns, with tatami mats on the floor, a low table for dining, and futons on the floor for sleeping. This inns are wonderful and relaxing, and I highly recommend them. You're generally given a yukata (cotton robe) and slippers to wear around the ryokan, which may also have public hot baths for you to enjoy. You take off your shoes when you enter the room and put them in a cupboard and pad around in socks. When you go wandering around the inn, you wear the slippers provided.

Except when you go in the bathroom. For the brief time you're in there, you wear what's called toilet slippers. The bathrooms were usually so small that sometimes you would put them on but literally would not even take an entire step while wearing them. I suppose the idea is that the bathroom floor might have, uh, substances on it that you wouldn't want to step in while wearing socks, although honestly, the bathrooms were all pretty spotless. I might not want to wear socks into a port-a-potty here in the US, but I have no problem going shoeless into most home or hotel bathrooms. Still, we wholeheartedly followed all the ryokan traditions, including the Wearing Of the Toilet Slippers. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, and when in Ikaho Onsen, Gunma Prefecture, dammit, do as the Ikano Onsen Gunmanians do.

We were introduced to three pairs of toilet slippers while in Japan (only the more traditional hotels had them). One was a plain brown pair. One was a faded tan pair with Magic Markered characters written on them (saying what we don't know).

But our absolute favorite pair were these bright green ones, modeled here by my friend Sue, which featured a groom and his bride, who is apparently one of those pink children from the game of Life, the little peg people you stuck in your plastic car.

Once we discovered these slippers, no one for the rest of the trip ever said he or she was "going to the bathroom." Instead we were "going to visit the toilet slippers." I have the feeling it's one of those inside joke expressions that's going to stick with us for a long time, even if we never again visit a country where special bathroom shoes are required.

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