Why The Shoe Must Squeak

Hybridity commonly refers to the creation of new transcultural forms within the contact zone produced by colonization.

Yes, there’s a link between this quote and the title above. What my text-book of anthropology explains, is that from the clash between a traditional culture and a culture from outside (in a wider sense than colonization), a space of creativity is born. This process is called hybridization. If we apply this concept to Japan, we can see that a lot of things originate who are neither absolutely Japanese nor completely foreign. And one thing’s for sure: Japanese are creative. Take a look at the following examples.

squeaky shoes

When looking through some books on Japanese culture, I came across Donald Richie’s The Image Factory. There was the following excerpt:

Something more sartorial was the fad for squeaky shoes in the mid-nineteenth century. It was noticed that foreign footwear occasionally squeaked and it was concluded that it ought to and that any shoe which did not was inferior. Thus, an enterprising cobbler began manufacturing strips that could be inserted into new shoes. These were called ‘singing leather’, and it was guaranteed that this was what they did.

I wasn’t satisfied with that explanation and made my own conclusions. Japanese shoes (geta 下駄) are made from wood and make a “flip flop”-like sound. You could easily hear someone’s coming. After the period of isolation, different elements, especially from the United States, “invaded” Japan and mixed up with traditional elements. Rubber was introduced, and rubber sport shoes followed. Like the shoes they had known till then, silent ones were out of the question. And that’s why these shoes absolutely had to squeak.

waseigo (和製語)

Waseigo are words that seems like they are imported from a foreign language, but are actually invented by the Japanese themselves. Especially the pseudo-English words are nice. Some examples:


* Paper driver (ペーパードライバー ): someone who has a driving license but can’t handle a car at all.

* NEET (pronounced “niito”): Not in Employment, Education or Training. Seems like a serious abbreviation of an English term, but made up by the Japanese mind. These group is becoming a big problem in Japan where a lot of young people hardly find a job.

* Nighter (ナイター): An evening game, like a baseball match.

* My car (マイカー): Probably my favourite one. It’s used for indicating the personal car of someone (whether it’s yours or his). So in Japanese you can say: マイカーを貸してくれる? (Maikā wo kashitekureru?) Can I lend your car?

* Silver Seat (シルバーシート): A priority seat on public transport vehicles for elder people, pregnant women and disabled persons. Where does the silver come from?

* Y-shirt (waishatsu ワイシャツ ):  It started with a white shirt, the one business men wear. They dropped the “to” and transformed it into “Y” (to catch up with the T-shirt Tシャツ?). Nowadays, other coloured shirts are also waishatsu.

Kit Kat with wasabi taste

Yummy, chocolate and wasabi? Not my cup of tea, but you can find a load of sweets featuring Japanese traditional products. Kit Kat is enormously popular is Japan. This blog for example is completely dedicated to Kit Kat products and its different tastes.

Facts for fun

– all kinds of geta here.

– The product’s name Kit Kat is very well-chosen to sell in Japan. You pronounce it as “kitto katto” what sounds like kitto katsu きっと勝つ, to win for sure.


– Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin. Key Concepts in Post-colonial Studies. London: Routledge, 1998.

– Richie, Donald, and Roy Garner. The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan. London: Reaktion, 2003.


3 thoughts on “Why The Shoe Must Squeak

  1. I think the silver in ‘silver seats’ refers to elderly people’s gray hair. It’s just a guess though.

    I love the way Japanese people take foreign influences and make them their own. It’s one of the things that fascinates me most about Japan. You are so right in saying that the Japanese are very creative in that respect!

    The thing about the squeaky shoes reminds me of something I often saw in Japan: small children with shoes that make a squeaky sound every time they take a step. It sounds a bit like a dog toy. For a few minutes it’s pretty funny, but I don’t know how those parents can stand that sound all day long.

  2. Pingback: Japan Actually | nippaku

  3. Pingback: What Do You Mean? | nippaku

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s