Hawaii is a funky cultural collision as it sits right in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and the infamous Ring of Fire, and the collision can be seen in the food.
The U.S. Military invented Spiced Ham, otherwise known as Spam, and Hawaii was an important station for Spam-eating World War II American soldiers. Now Spam is a staple protein in many Hawaiian dishes. Mexican-American soldiers stationed in Hawaii gave rise to Oahu’s famous Taco rice. You can always rely on a good Bento Box for lunch due to Hawaii’s Japanese influence. And foods like Kalua pork, laulau and poi come from the ancient Hawaiians.
Nearly 40% of Hawaii’s locals are of Asian descent while Caucasians make up 25% of the populace. Native Hawaiians are 10% of the population, and more international visitors decide to emigrate to Hawaii every year. Hawaii is the true melting pot of America.
Many of Hawaii’s customs have been imported. Taking your shoes off at the door and going barefoot comes from Asia.
Japanese houses are lifted off the cool damp ground by a few feet. That means you must step up into the house in order to enter, and rising into the house requires visitors to take their shoes off at the door.
A raised house means that the first floor stays off the ground. This keeps out any precipitation as well as dirt. As respect for all of this effort, the Japanese expect you to take off your shoes before entering.
You’ll notice that a lot of houses in Hawaii are raised off the ground, and very few homes, if any, have a basement. This keeps the islands’ notorious red dirt out of the home. It also helps keep out sand, rain and any flooding.
As you walk up the steps of a Hawaiian home, you’ll notice a little area for everyone’s shoes. You might even see a little rack for shoes and sandals. To top it all off, some homes have a sign instructing you to take off your shoes followed by “Mahalo,” which means Thank You.
You’ll find that most Hawaiian homes have hardwood floors or tile, and the air temperature never makes going shoe-less uncomfortable. So, in Hawaii’s tropical temperatures, it’s a mild inconvenience, but taking off your shoes shows a lot of respect for the household.
Many Asian cultures expect you to take your shoes off before entering someone’s home as a sign of respect. The Japanese use to floor their homes with braided tatami straw mats, and this was long before the vacuum. Wearing your shoes into a home could push impossible-to-get-out dirt into the floor of the home.
Koreans used to place hot stones under the raised floor of a home. This is the world’s original radiant heat, and it is much more enjoyable with bare feet. Taking off your shoes entering a Korean home would be delightfully comfortable.
The Chinese believe that being barefoot is healthy. The ancient tradition of reflexology believes that walking around a home, on a flat hard surface, stimulates important pressure points on the bottom of the foot. These pressure points are believed to stimulate different parts of the body including the brain and internal organs.
Take your shoes off even if there is no rack or sign. You can leave your shoes on the porch or front step. Then you can just kick back and relax. Being barefoot helps you sink into the Hawaiian culture, and, pretty soon, you’ll enjoy being completely barefoot as you slide right into island time. Before, you know it, you’ll be calling people Aunty, Uncle, Bruddah and Sistah all while flashing the shaka.
Just make sure that you’re prepared for a shoe-less visit. Wear clean socks with no holes, or, better yet, wear flip flops and simply go barefoot. Just remember to use a hose or outdoor shower to blast the sand off your feet before scratching that sand across a Hawaiian home’s hardwood floors.