At the beginning of sentences, I usually see words referencing to a placing being followed by "de wa". For example,


I thought that when you started sentences with a place you always had to follow it with "では", but I found this example,

日本 で、 家 の 中 で 靴 を 履いて は いけません。
In Japan, wearing shoes inside the house is not allowed.
nihon de, ie no naka de kutu wo haite ha ikemasen.

Now, if I take the English sentence and put it in an English-Japanese translator, it gives me the sentence as I thought it would be,


Is the wa here irrelevant and it can be omitted and both sentences are correct, or is it grammatically incorrect to say so and the translator isn't working properly?

  • Probably it's a great answer but I'm not sure if I understand it. So if I add "wa" in 日本ん で、 家 の 中 で 靴 を 履いて は いけません。I would be contrasting it to something else? But the link that answer mentions also mentions it can work as topic marker "in different contexts" which I dont know if it's the context of my sentence or not
    – Pablo
    Nov 29, 2021 at 18:30
  • let's put in another way. This link selftaughtjapanese.com/2015/02/26/… claims that if you remove the wa from this sentence "In Japan, there are a lot of parks." you end with ackward japanese. How can that be true and the sentence "In Japan, wearing shoes inside the house is not allowed." without a "wa" be correct. They look to have exactly the same semantic structure to me.
    – Pablo
    Nov 29, 2021 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


The following sentence does sound awkward.


However, this doesn’t mean a place always has to be marked with では at the beginning of a sentence. In fact, the following sentence sounds totally natural.


In these sentences, 家の中で modifies the verb phrase 靴を履いてはいけません to restrict the place where the act of wearing shoes should not happen.

日本で in the first sentence, on the other hand, doesn’t restrictively work on a verb phrase like that as the sentence is not saying you should not wear shoes in Japan. Rather, it works on the whole sentence indicating a greater setting within which the statement 家の中で靴を履いてはいけません is true. It sounds much more natural if it is expressed as the topic of the whole sentence with は.


Let’s look at another example which sounds natural enough without は.


This sentence is understood as stating that the speaker bought shoes in Japan, as well as that they bought them at a department store. 日本で modifies the verb phrase 靴を買いました, along with more specific デパートで, and both are new information to the listener.

Adding は changes this.


In this sentence, 日本で is turned into a common topic between the speaker and the listener, and this prepares the listener to hear what the speaker did in Japan, possibly in contrast to what they did in another country.

In English, putting an adverbial phrase like “in Japan” at the beginning of a sentence itself has a similar effect. So, the last two sentences may be translated as the following.

I bought shoes at a department store in Japan.

In Japan, I bought shoes at a department store.

  • This all is so abstract. I dont see a difference between the 2 sentences in the last 2 examples. Also, even if I read the technical explanations a lot of times they say nothing to me. How do you know in the first example you give, that one isnt telling you not to wear shoes in Japan, and the second is telling you not to wear shoes inside the house when both sentences have the same sintactic structure? BTW, if I take that sentence to translator, (and I know they work wrongly a lot of times) it also goes with "don't use shoes in Japan". So the translator is being tricked in the same way like me
    – Pablo
    Nov 30, 2021 at 10:54
  • 1
    @Pablo - 日本で靴を履いてはいけません would be telling you not to wear shoes in Japan, but the first sentence is not that.
    – aguijonazo
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:49

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