House slippers and the culture of taking shoes off indoors

Last month I wrote about taking part in a biomechanics research study where the researcher complimented my footprints, saying that they were beautiful because all my toes could be clearly seen and were not squashed together. I have my own theory on why my toes have formed in this manner, and my theory is that it’s because I grew up in a country where everyone takes their shoes off when they are inside the house. Growing up, I was always barefooted at home, and I think this allowed my feet to grow freely and naturally. My feet were not crammed into tight shoes. Even at school, especially at lower primary school level, we took our shoes off before entering the classroom. This was probably because there’s a lot of sitting on the floor at primary school.

Taking shoes off indoors is not uncommon. It is the culture in Japan, Korea and all across South East Asia. You know a culture is serious about removing shoes indoors when there’s a special area in a house or building just for taking shoes off. In Japan, it is called ‘genkan’ (玄関) while in South Korea this area is called ‘hyeon gwan’ (현관) It’s a small area just inside the front door where people take their shoes off before entering the house or building. There may also be a shoe box or rack in this area to put shoes in. In Japan, this box is called ‘geta bako’ (下駄箱) which literally translates as geta-box, because in the past it was the traditional Japanese geta that would have been placed inside the box.

Even now, I feel a kind of psychological barrier at the front door of any house, and if I wear my shoes inside a house, I have to mentally make myself cross that barrier. When my friends from other cultures put their feet up on their bed or other furniture while wearing outdoor shoes, I cringe internally. And picture them stepping on dog poo or something and then smearing it on the bedspread or sofa!

After removing shoes at the door, there are a few options when indoors- going barefoot, wearing socks or wearing house slippers. Traditional Japanese houses have tatami mats on the floor, and these days some Japanese houses may still have a tatami room. Even house slippers are not allowed on tatami mats because they can spoil the mat. So bare feet or socks only when entering a tatami room.

It was the start of ‘chu seok’ (추석) yesterday. This is a Korean harvest festival, kind of like a Korean thanksgiving. It is celebrated at mid-autumn on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar. Since it is ‘chu seok’, I thought I would write about Korean house slippers, which are also called ‘sil nae hwa’ (실내화) or literally ‘room indoor shoes’.

Shih Yen wears Korean house slippers

These house slippers were a gift from a South Korean friend and they are made in Korea. They look a bit like short socks, and at first they look way too small for me. But to my surprise, they stretched to fit me. These slippers are comfortable to wear around the house, and house slippers help keep the floor clean.


10 thoughts on “House slippers and the culture of taking shoes off indoors

  1. I live in the US and follow a no shoes in the house policy. Visitors are also required to shed their shoes. My girl friends never seem to mind but sometimes men complain

  2. Hello, I know this post about Slippers in the house is an old one, but just wondering if you might be willing to ask your friend where and how she obtained these Korean slippers. I’ve been searching online for this exact kind of slipper and have not been able to find any. I was born in Korea, but grew up and currently live in the U.S. Thanks so much.

  3. Ugh! I can’t find these either. I just saw a girl with them on in my tiny town of Idaho. She wore them like no show socks with her Tom’s shoes. Sad thing is that I was in Korea in January for 2 weeks and never saw them. But, then I really didn’t know to look for them. :(. If you find a source, please share it. They would be super easy to sew. I would use a 4 way stretch polyester knit. The bottoms had those dot grippers on them. Like children’s footsie pajamas but not as big and the fabric was stretchy too.

  4. Pingback: Fuera zapatos: La costumbre de quitarse los zapatos antes de entrar a una casaOla Hangeul

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