Japanese School Tour: The School Entrance
Perhaps the most important place in any school is the entrance area (genkan). It's where the school sees all its guests and faculty come and go. It's more than just an entrance, though: it's intrinsically linked to Japanese culture. It's where everyone takes off their shoes and switches to indoor shoes before entering.
Each teacher and every ALT will have their own locker. Sometimes, they'll have your name on it (in the case of my elementary school) and sometimes they won't (in the case of my JHS). When it doesn't, it'll usually just have an impersonal "ALT" on it. No matter what, you should have a spot to put your shoes. It sounds a bit silly if you come from a place where you don’t customarily remove your shoes, but I’m being serious.
Actually, when I came to my first junior high school on my first day, I looked for my locker and didn't see one for me. No name, no ALT label, nothing! I asked one of the English teachers and they had to scramble to find one for me... Not the best start to the new school year because I definitely felt forgotten about when everyone else had their lockers neatly labeled by the school!
If you’re wondering why there are so many lockers, usually there are that many faculty and staff members at the school. Some schools have specific lockers for the higher ranking PTA members at the school. (Yes, the Japanese PTA means the same thing as the American PTA.) The rest of the lockers are for guests and visitors and will often have slip on indoor shoes.
❗ If you forget your indoor shoes on the first day (or any day) use these guest slippers! That’s what they’re there for.
The inside of the lockers are nothing fancy. They have a shelf, creating two separate areas for your indoor and outdoor shoes. I’ve seen people do it differently. Some use the top one for outdoor shoes and the bottom one for indoor shoes, and vice versa. As long as you keep it consistent, it shouldn’t really matter.
The gray shoes are my indoor shoes. I got them from Walmart for $5. Be sure that the pair you buy is comfortable, since you’ll be wearing them most of the days!
❗During winter months, it can get very cold since some schools don’t use heaters. Your feet will be touching the freezing metal desk and if your shoes are thin, they’ll provide very little protection. I ended up with mild frostbite on my toes the first year because of this! Consider switching to warmer indoor shoes in the colder months!
The Doc Martins are my outdoor shoes that I wear basically every day. The first day I arrived, I came in my suit with matching heels. While I thought I looked cute and put together, no one saw me in my matching heels since I had to take them off to enter the building. So don’t worry about what shoes you use to commute to school in.
The blue thing is the shoe bag I used to bring my shoes on the first day. Originally, I was planning to transport a single pair of shoes between my two assigned schools, but I ended up buying two pairs of shoes instead. (I highly recommend this, especially if you can find cheap and comfortable shoes.) With this change of plans, there was no need for the shoe bag which is why it's just kind of there.
To the side of the lockers is the reception area. Behind those windows is the the secretary’s room which also contains all the school supplies. The secretaries handle a lot of the day to day business of the school so try to befriend them. They have connections that can really help you out (and they know a lot of the gossip).
Sometimes, the schools’ entryways aren’t as grand or prominent as this. My first school didn't have a large greeting area like the one pictured. The faculty entrance was right next to where the third year students put their shoes. (Usually, the students come in through a different entrance than the teachers.) One thing remains consistent: there will always be an area to put your shoes!