It's been so long that I didn't even think twice before removing my shoes when I entered the four-story building in Atsugi, just outside Tokyo. After all it would never cross my mind to walk into someone's house with my shoes on, so why would I do so in an office? With all the furore over Messi's gift of his boots recently, it suddenly struck me how curiously unusual this act would appear in most countries in the west.
To keep the company's carpets clean, I unlaced my footwear and slipped them off, donning a pair of slightly small blue plastic slippers neatly laid out just inside the door for our convenience. Anywhere else I would probably feel somewhat ridiculous in a suit, tie and blue slippers; but not here in Japan. And we sat in the meeting, everyone looking serious and trying to find a resolution to a mildly intractable problem we were facing, whilst all the time shuffling our electric blue feet under the table.
And when we finished we walked back to the entrance, where our shoes had all been lined up and neatly turned around so they would be easier to slip on. Then we bowed to each other and our contingent strolled away to hail a taxi, leather shoes once more rounding out our suits and ties. And all the while the thought running through my mind was not about those blue carpet slippers but about something genuinely embarrassing. Had anyone from their team seen the hole in my sock when I'd removed my shoes?