Time Out's in-depth guide to Gion.

This section is brought to you in association with All Nippon Airways

Kyoto Chic 1 : The importance of smart shoes

Kyoto Chic 1 : The importance of smart shoes

When it comes to banquets and dining parties, I often witness a number of social curiosities, and, occasionally, I come across guests who I can’t help but think could behave a more sophisticated fashion. In the forthcoming series, allow me to let you in on a few of the things I’ve learned at the various teahouses I’ve visited, to give you an insight into what needs to be done to achieve a respectable level of Kyoto chic.

Elderly folk will often insist on the importance of shining one’s shoes. I have been sternly reminded on many an occasion: ‘Before visiting another’s residence, be sure to shine and wear your best shoes. If your shoes look shabby, they’ll be noticed!’. The same goes for visiting restaurants and teahouses. Consider it a given that your shoes will be noted upon entrance.

Living in such an affluent world as we do, those who wear dirty shoes will be considered lower than those who wear holes in their socks. In a time when information is so readily accessible, those in the know can tell the value of a person’s shoes with a single glance, so, at the very least, be sure to wear well-shined shoes that don’t have scuffed heels. If you do, they’ll be noticed.

Some restaurants and teahouses even employ an elderly gentleman to look after guests’ shoes. In a similar fashion, the number of izakaya (a Japanese-style drinking establishment) requiring that guests remove their shoes before entering appears to be on the increase – probably in an effort to give them an added air of sophistication.

Something I often see at the establishments I visit is the type of person who, regardless of whether or not there is a gentleman responsible for looking after guests’ shoes, will invariably turn and face the direction of the entrance and carefully straighten their own shoes after entering. At first glance, this kind of behavior may seem like a common courtesy, however, it’s also an act of complacency. If you’re entering a teahouse, then you’re someone looking to have a good time – and having to straighten your own shoes is not something befitting the occasion. Instead, kick off your shoes, and carry on in the direction you’re heading.

The way in which you take off your shoes will indicate how well versed you are in frequenting these types of establishments: dawdling around before the entrance of an upper-class teahouse is a particularly uncouth faux pas.

Even if you’re feeling a little unsteady on your feet, just slip out of your shoes as if you’ve not a care in the world, alight the step and be guided into the tatami-floored reception room. And that’s Kyoto chic.

The original version of this article, in Japanese, appeared
in ANA's inflight magazine, Tsubasa no Oukoku.

By Ryunosuke Tokuriki


Add your comment