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Jipsin, Korean straw shoes

The ancient sandals are worn at funerals

Mar 06,2005
Here’s this week’s tip on Korean language and customs:

Q:
When I was traveling in the south of Korea last year, at a local open-air market I came across a stall selling all kinds of household commodities. As a souvenir, I bought a pair of hand-made straw sandals. To this day, though, I’ve been wondering if those crude-looking shoes are actually worn.

A:
The history of Korean traditional straw sandals, or jipsin, goes back about 2,000 years.

The sandals, available in various styles and materials, were one of the most popular everyday commodities, worn mostly by commoners, farmers at work and scholars on their outings.

In farming homes, servants spent their spare time hand-weaving the sandals for family members and also sold them in the marketplace to earn extra money.

While most Koreans these days regard jipsin as a nostalgic souvenir from the past, the old tradition of wearing jipsin at a formal funeral remains. According to the tradition, straw sandals have both practical and symbolic meanings. While wearing jipsin means the mourner is paying humble respect to the deceased, the shoes also can prevent the wearer from slipping on his way to the gravesite.


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