A couple months ago the Kameoka Corner article was about “borrowed words,” that is, words from another language but used in Japan with a Japanese pronunciation.
One English word not mentioned in that article is “slippers” or what we usually call house slippers. Slippers went to Japan from the West. Probably because of their “no shoes worn in the house” lifestyle, slippers, or the Japanese borrowed word “surippa” found themselves perfectly at home with the custom, in fact, so much so that the Japanese may well be the most slipper-loving people on earth.
Virtually every home, apartment, school, temple and shrine, castle and Japanese style hotel have shelves or cabinets at the entrance where one exchanges their street shoes for slippers. Even Japanese airlines provide slippers for their passengers as do the first class or “green cars” on the bullet trains. But in many places, particularly in homes, it’s a bit more complicated than simply exchanging street shoes for slippers. Some places in homes, the slippers are removed and other places they are exchanged of other slippers.
For example, slippers are removed before entering any rooms with tatami-matted floors and toilets have their own hard-plastic slippers. And somewhat like having a different wardrobe for different seasons, there are different kinds of slippers for the summer and winter seasons – warmer, heavier slippers for winter and lighter cotton or straw for summer. And like clothing, there are different styles of slippers, including designer styles.
Certainly replacing ones shoes with slippers when entering a home, particularly a home with tatami-matted rooms, is an issue of both cleanliness and possible damage to the tatami mats. But, some say there may be a completely different issue which comes into play. Because many in Japan live in rather small apartments they may create psychological space to compensate for lack of actual physical space.
By sort of compartmentalizing their space where slippers are worn or not worn or where a different kind of slipper is worn creates the illusion that their living space is larger. There are a lot of things I like about Japanese culture and customs, but surippas haven’t quite made my “top 10” list yet, even though we have several pairs in our home.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.