Slip right in and feel at home
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.