There are a few things that you absolutely shouldn’t do when walking around in a tatami straw matted room. In this article I will give you three hints on what not to do on tatami mats.

[Watch the video which this article is a transcription of]

I want to give you three tips on what you should not do in a tea chamber or in a traditional Japanese house where there is straw matted flooring. On these mats, there are some typical, modes of behavior that you should keep in mind just not to come over as impolite or disrespectful. And if you keep these three tips to hart, then you will be able to go into any tatami room without problem.

Rule #1 – No Shoes On The Tatami! Bring Socks.

So tip number one, do not walk on the tatami in shoes! Take off your shoes, and also make sure that you’re wearing socks. Preferably clean white socks. Don’t walk on tatami barefoot. That is also not accepted.

In the past, the roads outside were dusty and dirty, and if you had walked about in the streets and then entered someone’s house, you wouldn’t want to bring the dust inside. So what you would do was either to put clean tabi – the socks that you wear in your straw sandals – over your outdoor socks. Or you would change them, and you would change them into clean white socks. Because that indicates to the person who’s home you’re entering, that you are wearing clean socks and that you’re being mindful of the cleanliness of the house. So tip number one, always wear socks on tatami. No bare feet and no shoes.

Rule #2 – Don’t Step On The Borders

tatami tea room

Tip number two, never step on the borders. You always cross the border with one foot or another. In a tea chamber especially, you open your body up to the alcove; to the most important area in the the room. The borders are not to be stepped on. It’s also a matter of respect.

In the past it was said that this would be the only place in a traditional Japanese house through which someone would be able to stick a sword through. So it’s also for your own safety. If we think about it from an warring times background, then these are dangerous areas to step on. So it’s better not to step on these.

And how do you cross them? You always would slide one foot over or the other foot over so that when you cross the border, you’re mindful of where you open your body up to.

Rule #3 – No Thumping On The Tatami!

Tip number three, when you walk on the tatami try not thump on it. Try not to lift up your feet, and try to slide your feet over the tatami. This will make a nice rustling sound as you slide about. When you step on it as you usually walk outside, there will be too much noise. It will be un-agreeable to listen to; the building might shake a bit, and so you want to try to keep your motion as quiet and as peaceful as possible.

So what you want to do is to slide your feet over the matting. Just make that nice and calm, rusting sound. This will do several things. First of all, in martial arts, sliding your feet is something that is very common. That is basically to maintain balance and to always at any given time, be able to change your direction of motion so that you can react to whatever your opponent is doing.

Lift up your feet

If you lift up your feet, you’re for a moment off balance. So this is a very common thing in Japanese culture and knowing that tea ceremony is also something that comes from a warrior style background you may understand that this type of walking is something that is very common in the tea ceremony and in Japanese culture in general.

The other thing that it does is by making this rusting sound, you convey a message to people behind the scenes that can’t look inside, but can hear what is going on in the tea chamber. So if you tell them, by sliding your feet over the tatami, that you are walking about, then that is enough information for them to know what to do next or what not.

For example, at certain points during the tea ceremony, you might still be moving around. And as long as you’re moving around, the host is not going to enter the tea chamber yet until everyone is seated. That is a way to send a message that you are still moving around. So when you’re walking around in a tatami straw mated room, always try to keep your feet pressed against the mat, sliding about. Do not lift up your feet and don’t make an annoying thumping sound. Just keep it quiet and peaceful.

Watch on YouTube

These are my three suggestions for walking around in a tatami straw matted room, in a tea ceremony chamber or in a Japanese house. Watch the full video on YouTube:

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