While living in Hawaii, I have observed and absorbed many new cultural rituals into my life. One of the most prevalent customs used in our Hawaiian culture requires one to remove their slippers before entering a home. In many cases this tradition continues with businesses. I can honestly say I respect this tradition, especially in the homes of my friends and family. I must admit I was a little concerned last week as I left my only remaining pair of Prada slippers alone in the cool damp entryway of my new chiropractor office. But, the reality is that they are just flip flops and my Birkenstock’s are better for me anyway. It was also a bit unusual going to a job interview a few weeks back and everyone in the corporate office was dressed to the 9’s and barefoot –I was even part of the regime, as I was asked to remove my shoes at the door too. I guess that is “Hawaii Life”…literally. So, where did this tradition begin?
Originally, traditional Asian homes were raised approximately 2 feet off the ground for ventilation and allowed the home to be above the cold damp earth. It was customary to remove your slippers in the entryway of the home built at ground level. One would next strep into their home in their bare feet or socks.
Today, in Asia and Hawaii newly constructed homes are still built with an entrance that is usually lower than the rest of the home. This is a practical design and allows for any type of weather, such that all dirt and wet gear can be left in the entrance and does not need to be brought into the home, hence the house stays clean. The act of removing your slippers serves as a physical and psychological purpose; the motion of stepping up to a different level, allows one to be aware they are entering someone’s private space. Originally Japanese homes had wood hallways or woven straw mats as flooring of the rooms. The ancient Koreans had under floor heating stones to heat their wooden floors. Asian lifestyle at that time was centered on the floor. The tables were low and they sat on the floor to eat and sleep. That is why it has remained consistent all these years to have clean and warm floors.
It is also believed to be of good health practice to be barefoot. The Chinese have been practicing foot reflexology for over 5,000 years. Being barefoot allows your pressure points to be stimulated. When confined in shoes all day, your feet do not have the chance to breathe, stretch and feel. If you do not practice removing your shoes, give it a try! Since I moved to Kauai, I have only but on a pair of closed toe shoes once in six months. I have quickly adapted and love to be barefoot. I have noticed that I am much more centered and aware-especially of having a great pedicure. So the next time you visit one of our islands be aware and prepared. BTW a little trivia…on the islands of Hawaii your mainland flip flop is referred to as your slippers.