Honbu Footwear Protocol

The first time I went to Japan, I was quickly corrected on the proper etiquette regarding footwear inside the foyer of the Honbu dojo. And now on every subsequent trip, I observe this rule and watch as many a foreigner does not observe it, much like me my first time. Many do, but many don’t. And I never see anyone explaining it like it was to me. So, I will explain it to you.

As you can see in the photos, as you enter the Honbu through the double sliding doors, there is a tiled foyer and a raised main floor, with a sliver of wooden walkway hugging the corner.

Bow. One must only touch the tiled floor with outdoor footwear and never anything else. You cannot step onto this area with bare feat, or socks, or even tabi. But likewise, you cannot step anywhere else with outdoor footwear. Not onto the wooden walkway or the raised main floor.

Once you enter, you remove your shoes one at a time and place your foot (minus the shoe) onto the wooden walkway, then you pick up your shoes and place them in a cubby hole in the closet section.

Now you can carry your bag from the closet, stepping onto the wooden walkway, then directly up onto the main floor level. Do not block this area by stopping to put on your tabi. Continue through, even though many do. You don’t.

Now you can put your bag into the next “locker” cubby hole section, which does not lock. At all. When you come back out, you can don your tabi. Women have a smaller, separate room in which to change. Men typically do it in the open, and, stopping to bow directly at the matted entrance, enter the main dojo floor to stretch, finish dressing, and pay for the class. It’s poor practice to neglect to pay before class and wait until after for the call to those who have not yet paid, publicly showing your laziness or tardiness.

Always bow when entering or exiting the primary dojo floor, facing in. Bring lots of water. Bring a sweat rag and hang it on your belt. You will probably need it.

Many people often show up very early for classes, as much as a half hour or an hour. Tardiness should not be a problem you deal with. Classes are generally ¥3,000 each, except for Hatsumi Soke’s class, which is ¥3,500. And these are per class. If the teacher shows up late, that’s fine. It’s his prerogative. It’s not yours, though.

You should consider dressing well and formally. That is, no missing pieces. If the teacher dresses down, it is then acceptable to dress down to match if you wish. The heat in Japan will sometimes dictate that on your behalf. If the teacher wears a t-shirt and no gi top, you are free to do so as well.

When formally bowing in or out at the Honbu in formation with your peers, the general rule of higher rank to one side and front with lower ranks at the back seems to disappear. Its so crowded and many strangers that everyone just plops down in the first available slot.

It used to be customary to bring a gift for Soke or the other teachers, which seems to be falling out of practice. If you do, it’s said to bring a consumable so Soke doesn’t have tons of junk piling up in his house. When Soke paints for you, you must bring your own canvas. Never, ever, have Soke paint for you more than once in a single trip to Japan.

When class is over, 2 people will be selected to vacuum the dojo floor, or everyone in general will be asked to volunteer 2 people. Make sure it gets done. Do not leave any garbage behind. (There is a strict custom regarding garbage in Japan. That is why there are no public waste bins. Put garbage in the bins where you acquired the item, or where you sleep.) When leaving, do not step down onto the tiled section with your socks or tabi. Again, step onto the wooden walkway, then into the closet to retrieve your outdoor footwear. There is a shoe horn in the corner (as is at most commercial locations that require removal of shoes). Place one shoe on and step down onto the tiled floor while your other foot stays on the wooden walkway, then repeat for the other foot.

After you open the double sliding doors, turn around, bow, and step back to close the doors, unless someone is following you. Stay clear when Hatsumi comes or goes. He has priority and staying within his path is very bad manners.

Once outside, and this is very important, wait. Never leave before the teacher.

Many visitors will not follow these rules of etiquette. That is no concern of yours. Just do it, and if you are my student, you had better.