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Do Japanese High School Kids Really Hang Out On The Roof/Wear Inside Shoes?

by Justin Sevakis,

Chibi Chetsko asks:

Are students permitted to eat their lunches and hang out on the roof during breaks or is this an anime-exclusive thing only? We've seen it countless times...but some recent series like WATAMOTE have told us the door to the roof is always locked. Is this true? Also, could you also please tell us a bit about the shoes the students change into at their lockers? Are they like slippers or just softer sneakers? Anime and manga never focus on them much, probably because they're so routine.

Unfortunately, WATAMOTE is right. Hanging out on the roof, a seemingly normal rite-of-passage in Japanese high schools according to anime, doesn't actually happen in real life. At least, not often. Some high schools do lock the doors to the roof, and even if you could go out there, it's not exactly a comfortable place. It's often covered in dead leaves, puddles and moss, and wind-blown litter if you're in the city. It's not made for hanging out.

The schools that do lock off the roof usually do so for fear that some depressed kid is going to jump, which can and does happen occasionally. Some have even gone so far as to fence off the roof, in addition to locking it. Students can get a teacher to unlock up there if they really want to, but most would rather spend time chilling in the classroom. Sure, a delinquent loner might sneak up there to get away, but it's by no means common. People are very seldom alone at school.

However, hanging out on the roof has become a cliché in anime and manga because of its dramatic possibilities. A couple of people could be alone up there, for kissing or fighting. Cherry blossoms can blow around them. The wind can tussle their hair. It's simply a dramatic setting that's become an easy setting for telling a story in high school.

The slippers are a real thing though. They're known as uwabaki and they're part of the school uniform, intended for indoor wear. The soles, which are usually rubber, are kept clean so as to not track dirt around the school or leave scuff marks on the floor. They're never worn outside. Uwabaki are common in many places in Japan, but in schools they're almost always white, with different colored soles that extend as a stripe over the toe. The color of the sole/toe stripe indicates what grade the student is in.

Every student gets a shoe locker at the entrance, and changes from their outdoor shoes to indoor ones when they enter the school. The practice of taking your shoes off at the lower step of an entranceway when you enter a building is called genkan, and is believed to go back over a thousand years. It's common in schools, in homes, and at bath houses and old fashioned buildings like ryokan. But at home most people just use slippers.

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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