Traditional Japanese footwear is not seen that often these days
as is usually only worn with other traditional clothing. Zori
are sandals made from rice straw or lacquered wood and are worn
with a kimono for formal occasions. Geta are raised wooden clogs
that are worn with the informal yukata. Geta are most often seen
these days on the feet of sumo wrestlers. You will most likely
hear them before you see them as they make a distinctive clacking
noise as the wearer walks. This is sometimes mentioned as one
of the sounds that older Japanese miss most in modern life. You
may see the occasional buddhist monk wearing wearing waraji, sandals
made from straw rope that in the past were the standard footwear
of the common people. All three designs allow for free circulation
of air around the feet, a feature that probably came about because
of Japan's humid climate.
As in many other areas of life, the fashion of the early Japanese
nobility was greatly influenced by Chinese culture and so they
wore shoes or boots. Geta and zori originated in the Heian Period
(794-1192) a time which saw the evolution of a more "native" culture.
Geta are made from a flat piece of wood on two slats (called ha,
or teeth) that raise the sole part 4-5cm off the ground. This
is enough to keep a kimono from getting dirty, though ashida (rain
shoes) have slats about 10cm high. Some sushi chefs even wear
geta with ha that are up to 17cm high. These "platform" shoes
were reincarnated in a brief late-90s fashion trend, where young
girls could be seen staggering around on atsuzoku (thick heels).
Both geta and zori are held on the feet by a hanao (thong), which
is usually black for men and red for women. Zori are usually worn
with white, split-toe cotton socks called tabi. Tabi are the footwear of choice for people taking part in the many matsuri (festivals) across Japan. Construction workers, who can be seen in brightly colored overalls with very baggy trousers, often wear jika tabi, cotton tabi shoes or boots with rubber soles. This form of footwear is not only distinctive but extremely comfortable, lightweight and practical. The durability and unique design of jika tabi has made them a popular export and one of the most popular items in our Japan Store.
While traditional Japanese dress has been largely replaced with
western clothing, some of its customs still survive intact. The
most common is the practice of removing one's shoes when entering
someone's home. The custom is a combination of cleanliness and
the fact that traditional flooring is made from tatami, straw
matting that is easily damaged by footwear. There is a story of
the first American consul to Japan, Townsend Harris getting off
to a bad start with his hosts by walking straight into the shogun's
presence in Edo Castle without removing his shoes.
Young girls (kogyaru) are Japan's true trend-setters these days, though their taste
is often very questionable. Platform heels (atsuzoku) were one of the must-have items of the
While geta have become pretty rare, the shoe cupboard in every
home's genkan (entrance hallway) is still called a getabako (geta
box). When you enter the genkan, you must remove your shoes and
the formal etiquette is to leave them neatly aligned and to the
side, facing inwards. The host turns them around and puts them
in the center before you leave. Younger people tend not to worry
about these finer details anymore. But when entering shrine or
temple buildings and many Japanese-style restaurants, you will
be expected to remove your shoes. Many restaurants and homes provide
slippers for guests, though these should be removed when entering
a room with tatami mat flooring. Also, there will be a separate
pair of slippers to be changed into in the toilet.
The Japanese have a very deep-rooted though largely unspoken understanding
of the difference between spaces. The genkan is a kind of border
post post between the outside world and the inner sanctum of the
home. Delivery men may quite casually step into your genkan but
that's as far as they'll go without you inviting them in. There
is almost always a step up into the home and the Japanese word
for entering a home is literally to "step up". Even when entering
your own home (uchi, meaning inside), the act of removing your
shoes is symbolic of casting off the worries and troubles as well
as the dirt of the outside world (soto). "Dosoku de agarikomu"
(literally, go inside with soiled feet) is a metaphor for meddling
thoughtlessly in someone else's affairs.