Q: Why did the elephant wear his red shoes?
A: Because he wanted to hide in the strawberry patch.
That riddle always pops into my head whenever I see these Japanese school sneakers. It came to mind again today when my son's pair arrived in the mail today. No, the school he goes to isn't Clown College. Although I was having such difficulty finding his size school sneaker I thought about trying to purchase a pair of clown shoes. They look practically the same. While the official shoes of students across the Japanese archipelago may resemble the footwear of circus stars who bear names like Buttons or Binky, they are not. They are in fact uwabaki, indoor sneakers stowed away at the end of the day in individual cubbyholes found at the foyer of practically every school building in Japan. Upon stepping foot inside kids will make a quick change out of their "outdoor shoes" and into these spiffy indoor numbers.*
These stylish slippers are typically available with either white, blue, yellow or red rubber soles. Craneview Junior High School, where my son Jiro attends, has opted for the more flashy red soles as part of the standard school uniform. They can usually be found wherever shoes are sold but only up to a certain size.
That's the problem. Size is always a big deal with my kids, whether it's the size of their appetites or the size of their feet. My oldest son, Ichiro, hit the shoe size ceiling in Japan somewhere around fourth grade. That's the year he was crowned the tallest one in school, towering over classmates and teachers alike. It became super easy to spot him in the crowd at school events, even at school-wide athletic events where everyone, outfitted in identical dirt-covered gym uniforms topped off with a colored cap, was huddled together in a big jumble of kidmanity. Jiro, who is a little smaller, breached that same size barrier a couple of months ago and we've been waiting for his special order red rubber soled sneakers to arrive in the mail ever since.
These last couple of weeks the poor kid's feet have been under a lot of pressure. I would say just wear any old sneakers that fit, but Jiro is more of a staunch a conformist (in his own peculiar way)at heart. Actually he and Ichiro, despite setting new standards for "unusual" behavior, are like two peas in a pod on that score. Neither of them like to stick out in the crowd. The problem is when you're as "outstanding" as those two, the differences make blending in almost as impossible as it is for an elephant to hide in a strawberry patch, whether they have their red sneakers on or not.
*Just because they never leave the building doesn't mean these shoes don't quickly dirty. By the end of the week there isn't a trace of white canvas left. That's why the kids have to bring them home in a special uwabaki bag every Friday so their parents can scrub them clean and begin the vicious cycle all over again comes Monday morning.