My husband has been reading my novel BIG IN JAPAN this week. Bless his heart! What a good man I married. And I have to admit that every hero in every book I write is just a different incarnation of my good, good man.
So, what’s been interesting as a bystander to his reading is every once in a while he’ll pop up with a question about the story. Today it was, “So, everyone just leaves there shoes somewhere? A big place or what?”
“The genkan,” I said, and then explained.
Different size houses have different size genkans, but it’s basically an entryway, about 3 ½ feet square in the place where I lived. There’s a cement floor on the same level as the outside stoop. A step up, about 18” (if I remember right), is the main level of the house, with its tatami straw mats as flooring.
Since tatami wears out pretty fast, being straw and all, it’s preserved best by not wearing shoes on it. So, everyone is expected to take off their shoes in the genkan. Most of the time slippers are provided to wear in the house. (But sometimes I just wore my socks or tights.)
There’s a bit of an art to the act of entering a house. It’s almost like a dance. Step into the genkan. Turn around and face the door again. Step backwards up onto the tatami, catching the heel of the shoe on the lip of the mat, flicking it off as you lift your foot. Then, repeat with the other shoe, turning around and sliding the feet into the waiting slippers. Finally, you stoop down and straighten the discarded shoes so they aren’t in a messy jumble and you have a neat genkan area (also so another person doesn’t trip.)
It’s a smart idea. We might get new carpet (as soon as my interior painting project is done), and when we do, I am thinking about implementing it here at our house. Not that I’ll be able to get anyone to comply…
Meanwhile, I wonder what question my reading husband will come up with next.