In Japan, there's one rule that, more than anything, will probably make people upset when broken. These fashion photos destroy that rule.
Forget things like eating on trains (a definite no-no in Japan) or sticking chopsticks into a bowl of rice (which is reminscent of Japanese funeral rites). Those are bad manners, sure, and are a good way to come off as uncouth, but these transgressions don't mess people up. For the vast (and I mean vast) majority of manner infractions, Japanese people tend to give foreigners a wide berth (though, Japanese parents would be -- or should be -- quick to correct their own children should they make similar indiscretions).
But, the one thing that people will stop you dead in your tracks for and say, HEY DON'T DO THAT PLEASE, is walking on tatami (or Japanese straw mats) with shoes on. Why? Because tatami is not designed to be stepped on with shoes. They're for socks and bare feet, and shoes can damage them.
Hell, you are not supposed to even walk on tatami in slippers! Something this Japanese inn points out in English on its website:
See, when you enter a house in Japan, you take your shoes off at the entry. Then, you put on slippers, but that's only for hardwood, marble, carpet, etc. If the whole house is tatami or if you go into the tatami room, you have to take off your slippers. This is to protect the straw mats from damage.
Via website No Impact Girl, you can see a tatami close-up, which might give you an idea why walking on these mats while wearing shoes (high heels!!) is a bad idea.
[Photo: No Impact Girl]
These days, many Japanese houses do not have tatami mats, so you can, conceivably, visit Japan and never step on a single piece of tatami. Which makes this spate of fashion spreads, which date from the past few years, all the more bizarre. Japan's largest bulletin board 2ch dug up the following photos:
At least the robot has its shoes off.
Not only do they show models, some Western and some Asian, sprawled across or standing on tatami, but in high heels. It's like the designers and photographers are saying, hey, Japanese culture, we'll take that but totally ignore the cultural norms you've established for not messing people up.
It's not just fashion types outside of Asia that are doing this. Some of the spreads also appeared in the South Korean version of Western fashion mags. According to Naver, the following photos are from a fashion show put on earlier this year at Kansai International Airport in Osaka.
So the shoes-on-tatami fashion photos aren't just a Western faux pas. They seem to be somewhat of a thing.
[Image via imsuperjen]
At least Kiko Mizuhara of Attack on Titan live-action fame (infamy?) is wearing sneakers.
[Image via imsuperjen]
Over on 2ch, many commenters seemed more amused and baffled by this trend than upset. Seeing fashion magazines and models break a rule that everybody in Japan has engrained into them from childhood is bizarre!
Over on blog Rabit Sokhuhou, commenters wrote things like, "For the time being, take off those sweaty shoes!" or "Knock off the shoes on tatami." When the images appeared on Japanese website Girls Channel, some commenters said these photos made them uncomfortable and they had no idea what the images were trying to convey. Why tatami mats? Why high heels? Why, why, why?
And sit up straight, super models!