Saturday, March 8, 2008
Slippers: God's gift to me.
One of the Japanese customs you are probably familiar with is wearing slippers (surippa) indoors. It's become second nature for Joe and I to automatically remove our shoes when we get to school or come home. I have a special pair of shoes that I wear only at school. I'm also supposed to have a separate pair of shoes to wear only in the school's gym (but I don't because I go there so infrequently). And I also have a separate pair of sneakers that I wear only in the fitness center I joined.
So at places you go to regularly, you either bring your own indoor shoes or keep them in a cubby by the entrance. And when you visit someone's home or certain other places, guest slippers are provided for you.
All homes and schools have an area just inside the door called the "genkan." This is the genkan in my school's front entrance. You're supposed to take your shoes off there and step directly into a pair of slippers on the regular floor. This is all so that you don't track dirt into clean areas. In a way, this sort of makes sense in places where you might sit on the floor. No one wants to sit in a muddy or dirty area.
Some places provide another pair of plastic guest slippers you're supposed to wear only in the bathroom. It is a major faux paus to wear the bathroom slippers out of the bathroom, just as it is to wear any sort of footwear at all into rooms with tatami mats on the floor.
Students wear black penny loafers to school but then store them in their shoe cubbies by the entrance and change into Birkenstocks. It's kind of strange to see girls in a nice navy blue uniform with a skirt, white socks and... Birkenstocks. They even wore Birkenstocks at graduation. Actually, the gym floor was covered with protective plastic during the graduation ceremony. Otherwise, I think they would've had to wear their special gym shoes with their skirts.
Being an absent minded person, the slippers thing can be a little irritating at times. It seems like I always get my outside shoes on to head out the door at the end of the work day before I realize I forgot something back in the office. Then I have to take my shoes back off and put slippers back on, go up and grab the thing and then put my outside shoes on all over again.
But, it turns out this is a small inconvenience to tolerate for the ability to essentially wear house slippers around all day, if I choose.
At first, I wasn't sure what to expect when it came to having footwear at school. Was I supposed to buy two pairs of dress shoes for everything — one pair of dress shoes to wear on my way to work and a second pair to wear once I actually arrived at work? It wasn't long before I discovered no one really cares what's on my feet at school, and besides that, it's better to wear comfortable shoes when I'm walking a couple miles to get there. So now I walk to work wearing business clothes and a pair of old sneakers. And when I get to school, I wear the same black pair of comfy shoes whether or not they match what I'm wearing. I kind of like the idea of slippers at work now. I have an excuse to wear comfortable and mismatched footwear, even when I'm in a suit! No heels expected. Proof that there is a God!
If that's not enough proof, it turns out this is one time when shoes are actually a big pain in the ass for men instead of women. And by that, I mean a big pain for Joe and not me.
I'm a size 8.5 in America (25.5 centimeters here), which is on the big side here, but still widely available. Joe, on the other hand, is utterly unable to find shoes anywhere to fit his size 13 feet (31 centimeters). So you can imagine that needing multiple pairs for different purposes has posed a bit of a problem. He ended up having his parents ship him a few pairs of shoes from home.
It always makes for a good laugh when Joe has to try to squeeze his giant feet into some place's guest slippers. This picture was taken at the community center where we celebrated Setsubun. Inevitably, the guest slippers are always too small for him and he ends up prancing around on his tiptoes like a giant, hairy ballerina. But he has to wear them — after all, it would be rude not to... And then I wouldn't be able to point at him and laugh, either.