For many people, wearing slippers around the house is an integrated part of your home life. Easy to slip on, comfortable, warm, perhaps personally stylish or goofy. They’re with us through every cozy moment we spend at home. The concept of wearing slippers at home isn’t anything new - take it from the Japanese, who have been perfecting the house shoe for over 600 years.
The origin of the “slipper” can be traced back to 5th Century China, when indoor shoes were more commonly made from leather or cattail leaves. But the Japanese are credited with creating the modern house shoe sometime around the beginning of the Meiji Era (1846-1912). During this time period, industry was forming in Japan, bringing a lot of foreign business, and foreign businessmen too. Westerners in particular had a hard time adopting the no-shoes-inside rule, and the Japanese became worried about their guests’ shoes harming the floors and delicate Tatami (woven straw flooring). Thus, the house shoe was re-invented from something very personal to something to be shared with guests. House shoes are indeed a gesture of welcoming.
The Genkan is the entry room in a Japanese home, similar to a foyer or a mudroom in Western terminology. It’s a place where you would gently remove your shoes, arrange them neatly pointed towards the door, and don the house shoes your host has laid out beforehand. Removing one's shoes while in another's home is done for many reasons, such as comfort, cleanliness, but most notably respect. When you remove your shoes in someone's home, you are respecting the host, the interior of the home, and the others that use the space. It is a silent agreement to enter the space with care and leave no signs of use or wear behind. After the conclusion of your visit, you would swap back into your street shoes and leave the house shoes behind.
Versions of the house shoe have been adapted by countries all over the world, but none have perfected it quite like the Japanese. They have shown us that with more than 30 different styles, and thousands of patterns and textile varieties, they can be as aesthetically pleasing as they are useful. While house shoes are almost a standard requirement in Asian and Eastern European countries, the culture is still far from standard worldwide. In many Western places, it may be common to remove one’s shoes in another’s home, but the concept of sharing slippers is still not widely accepted. There are many reasons to wear house shoes, but with more time and exposure, they will be a common household product that can improve the lives of our feet and our floors alike.