The Undonghwa, Korea's ubiquitous shoe
Do anything that you want to do, but uh-uh,
Honey, lay off of my shoes
Don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
You can do anything but lay off of my blue suede shoes. -Elvis Presley
Undong (Sports) Hwa (Shoes) – blue canvas shoes, can be found all over the DPRK – worn by soldiers, farmers, kids, sports teams, and many more…
While KPA soldiers were seen wearing similar versions of these shoes during the Korean War (1950-53), their practicality, simplicity and comfort made these canvas shoes a vital part of everyday life in DPRK as early as the 1960s.
The standard Undonghwa is a navy blue canvas shoe with white rubber soles. As with everything fashion though, there are many variations.
While back in the 60s and 70s, Undonghwa were worn by young and old - with an increasing sense for alternative fashion trends from within as well as abroad - adults these days tend to avoid wearing Undonghwa outside field work or sports events.
Kids however can be found out and about wearing them on a daily basis. You’ll quickly notice this when entering a Korean Kindergarten – lines of blue canvas shoes can be seen at most entrances (in Korean culture it is common to take outdoor shoes off before entering houses).
According to Koryo Tours’ statistics gained on the spot in the DPRK, more than 50% of Korean kids wear Undonghwa on a daily basis.This was an unscientific study with limited sample size. Nonetheless, Undonghwa are quite popular. As this blog post goes up, currently 1/5 of our office is wearing them. Say what you want, but that is a fact, and what ever you do lay off my blue canvas shoes.
Our foreign readers can purchase your own at Kwangbok Department Store in Pyongyang's Mangyondae District. Locals can buy them at many other shops around the city.
A Pyongyang Home Companion is a guide to daily life in Korea: how-to, food, sports, modern culture, and romance.