It's common to take off your shoes inside Japanese households. Other places may also require you to take them off. Here, we will be tackling about Japanese footwear manners focusing on where to take off your shoes and where to wear slippers.
In Japanese-style houses, shoes are taken off after opening the door and going inside the entrance hall, it's common to keep your socks on or to wear slippers inside the house. Although there are a lot of places which allow you to wear shoes like stores, offices and schools, it's common knowledge to take them off when entering Japanese-style buildings like ryokans, izakayas and temples.
You will know if the place requires you to take them off if there's provided space for taking off shoes or if there's a provided place for placing shoes. Normally, the place where you go up after removing your shoes is one level higher, but the lowest space is at the side of the entrance is called "doma" (dirt floor) which is allotted for taking off your shoes and place them. Another sign to take off your shoes is when a shelf or cabinet "shoe rack" is temporarily closed after placing shoes in it.
Private Japanese houses like western-style homes and mansions among others often have dirt floors or shoe racks. If you are invited to a private house, always remember to take your shoes off beforehand. You may be offered with a pair of slippers to wear indoors when entering the corridors or rooms from the dirt floor. Since it's a cause of concern that your feet don't get cold or your socks get dirty, so please do wear slippers if there is a pair available for you. However, even slippers are not allowed on tatami floor, you will be only allowed to be barefoot or to wear regular socks and tabi (Japanese socks).
Most usual stores allow you to keep your shoes on, but Japanese ryokans and izakayas (restaurant that offer liquor accompanied by simple dishes) and Japanese restaurants among other stores which offer Japanese-style guest rooms will require you to take them off. It's not rare for Japanese ryokans and Japanese meal stores to offer services where store employees put away your shoes and bring them out again when you leave. On the other hand, you'd have to put your shoes in the shoe rack yourself in izakayas and bath houses among others, and there are stores which has provides locks for such equipment. Both are considerations made by the store because shoes left on the dirt floor might disappear or someone else might wear them by mistake on their way home, so we must follow the store employees.
An image of a izakaya's shoe rack.
Japanese really like cleanliness. There are "slippers exclusively used in the toilet (these might be geta slippers or sandals)" provided on the place where you put your shoes so that you won't have to go in the toilet barefoot or wearing socks or slippers. When going inside the toilet, always remember to switch from the slippers you wore in the room to slippers for the toilet. However, taking out the slippers from the toilet and using them in corridors and in rooms is very unsanitary, so please be careful.
Sandals for toilet
It's common knowledge to take off your shoes when changing clothes. Private hotel rooms, workplace and school locker rooms among others are exemptions, but you'd have to take them off in places like for example in dressing rooms of clothing stores in Japan. In addition, in common toilets for women with relatively new equipment, they may provide a folding "clothes' stand" inside private rooms. Take out and place the stool on the toilet floor -- take off your shoes and change your clothes while standing on the side stool. These can often be seen in department stores. These are commonly used when changing stockings among others.
Although having to take off your shoes several times might be troublesome, taking them off will help your feet relax without it being tightly pressed and will maintain cleanliness of the room among other merits. Be sure to enjoy the feeling of stepping on tatami.