Footwear and Funny Walks

One week until D Day, otherwise known less dramatically as the day I depart for Japan.  The sub-letters are all set to move in.  I’m finalizing a written itinerary I will print and bring along, because I’ve gotten caught out abroad when my phone wouldn’t connect to wireless.  I’ve done my test pack.

This was my Japanese sister-in-law’s response when I asked her what the deal was with footwear.

Footwear!  This is a big topic….

What to wear – I would say as a foreigner you can get away with pretty much whatever you want to wear.  When I wore slip on black leather sandals (with heels, but without a strap on the heel side) one summer, my mom thought they looked too casual and should only be worn to hang laundry or water flower pots on the deck.  When I lived there 20+ years ago women tended not to expose bare legs and feet – wear pantyhose or socks – but that may have changed especially because of the ridiculous summer heat in the recent years.  

Where you would need to take your footwear off would be: people’s houses, traditional Japanese restaurants where you’ll be sitting on tatami mats (mostly in private rooms), fitting rooms where you try on clothing, clinics, and inside temples/shrines. 

In most of these places (not fitting rooms or temples/shrines), you’ll be offered or will be asked to wear slippers.  And you would not want to wear these shared slippers (vinyl) on your bare feet.  Also, in homes, you don’t want to make nice cloth slippers dirty by putting your dirty feet in them directly.  So if they don’t wear socks or feet covering of some sort, people tend to bring a pair in their purse etc. to protect their feet (at public places) or cloth slippers (at people’s homes). 

There’s this whole thing about “not touching your feet to the ground after you take your shoes off before getting inside or putting your slippers on” that may be good for you to know. One additional thing – no slippers on tatami mats.  Even if you put on indoor slippers when you go inside, when you go to a room where tatami mats are, you take off the slippers before you get into that room.

Now I am even more confused.  Good thing I’m a crass westerner and no one will expect me to behave correctly!  I’ll have shoes, slippers, and socks with me in a backpack at all times to be on the safe side.

The only thing more boring than hearing about someone’s health problems is hearing about their battles with cable providers and insurance companies, right?  So lucky you—this isn’t about Comcast or UnitedHealth!

The bane of my existence, Restless Legs Syndrome, is my main worry about Japan.

Maybe because it isn’t life threatening and has a silly-sounding name, people—including doctors—kind of laugh it off and don’t take it seriously.

Imagine you are the most tired you’ve ever been.  You drop into bed and immediately fall asleep.  Then, someone standing at the end of your bed grabs your feet and starts rubbing their hands up and down and around your calves until you wake up and have to kick them away.  That’s RLS, basically. Weird, creeping sensations deep in the legs that wake you up out of a sound sleep and force you to move.

The medications available to treat it work great until they don’t.  Then, they turn on you and make the symptoms worse.  I recently weaned off my medication, which was five weeks of Hell.  I slept for no more than 5-10 minutes at a stretch, then had to get up and walk around the house, do deep knee bends, kick, walk on my tip toes, and huddle on the floor face down in the fetal position to get the sensations to stop.  Sometimes I was up for an hour before it calmed down.

It’s better now.  I’ve been sleeping for up to an hour at a time.  But I worry about poor Lynn, sharing a hotel room with me.  I’ve already warned her to not be alarmed when she sees a shadowy Minister of Silly Walks at 3am.

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