Slip right in and feel at home

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

Slip­pers are back in style, ap­par­ently. Ja­panese in­ter­na­tional fash­ion chain Uniqlo sells “room shoes” in­spired by slip­pers worn in Ja­pan to pro­tect floors or at shrines and tem­ples. Uniqlo room shoes come in many a pat­tern never seen in­side a ryokan, in­clud­ing tar­tan and Dis­ney char­ac­ters. Then there are “sweat room shoes” with “a cush­ioned triple-layer con­struc­tion made from ure­thane foam for a soft, gen­tle feel” and while I am not sure if they are wa­ter­proof, they would look dash­ing at an on­sen.

I love the idea of pad­ding around in the slip­pers pro­vided at ho­tels and spas. Typ­i­cally these are open-toed and made from tow­elling. In­evitably they are too big for my fairy feet and I shuf­fle like Min­nie Mouse. But there is some­thing lib­er­at­ing about the shed­ding of shoes. It sug­gests to me an in­for­mal­ity and equal­ity. We are all sud­denly less pompous and rigid. I have read that a school in Eng­land has a slip­pers-only pol­icy for its stu­dents, based on cre­at­ing a homely en­vi­ron­ment in which the ju­niors can curl up in arm­chairs to read with­out all the wrig­gling and dis­trac­tions of sit­ting side-by-side at desks.

It’s all the rage in Swe­den, too, where slip­pers are typ­i­cally worn at home, but now some com­pa­nies are en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to stay comfy at work, too, with the aim of de­creas­ing stress and low­er­ing noise lev­els. Ah yes, click-clack­ing stilet­toes on pol­ished floors and bossysound­ing boots up and down stairs. Give me the swish of a slip­per any time.

In Ja­pan, slip­pers are worn in­doors at al­most all homes. There will be an al­cove, called a genkan, by the front door for tak­ing off shoes and putting on house slip­pers. But if there is a tatami room, re­move those slip­pers to ac­tu­ally tread on the rush mat­ting in socks or bare­foot, as the wo­ven squares would eas­ily be­come in­grained with dirt brought in by the soles of shoes and slip­pers. Some­times there are rub­berised “toi­let slip­pers”, too, to change into to ap­proach that Toto lava­tory with the salut­ing lid and whoosh­ing bits.

In re­li­gious build­ings across Asia, pil­grims and vis­i­tors alike re­move their footwear and pro­ceed in socks or bare­foot. Of­ten there are lock­ers or shelves where shoes can be stored, but oc­ca­sion­ally you have to carry them in­side or place on steps in the hope they will be found again. I have lost many san­dals that way and not be­cause they were stolen but the right, or left, has be­come adrift and never found its part­ner. I al­ways carry a shoe-sized bag now, lest I have to hop back to the bus.

The best ho­tels pro­vide cot­ton or tow­elling robes for guests, which is again a tra­di­tion bor­rowed from Ja­pan. Fold or hang your clothes and snug­gle into the gown. Ah, in­stant re­lax­ation, even if bed­time is many hours away. These are called yukata, a term now widely in use. Or if you are stay­ing at a cer­tain small re­sort in Aus­tralia with “ori­en­tal-in­spired rooms” then you may be in­formed, as I was, that your ameni­ties in­clude the use of a yakuza for the du­ra­tion of your stay. If I wanted to pur­chase said yakuza, I should in­form re­cep­tion. What price, a per­sonal se­cu­rity guard, I won­dered. Could be use­ful, at a pinch, next time my tem­ple shoes need mind­ing.

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