wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing
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Traditional Japanese Footwear
Traditional Japanese footwear tends to have thong toes, like modern day flip-flops. The thong part is called the hanao and can usually be replaced if it is damaged or a change is wanted. The thong between the toe is believed to press on acupressure points, aiding the body.
This kind of footwear could be easily made using nothing more than woven and twisted reeds, the woven reeds providing a sole, the twisted reed providing the string for the hanao or to simply tie the sole onto the foot. While wafuku (traditional Japanese clothing) can be very complicated and time consuming to put on, the fastening of it is done with just simple ties, although the different and very specific knots used for each tie can be somewhat complex. This simplicity meant almost anyone could make themselves simple footwear. You can see a pair of tatami, waraji sandals below.
Waraji tatami sandals
The traditional footwear worn with kimonos is, for women, geta or zori. The spelling of zori varies a lot, you may see it as zouri or zoori.
Geta are wooden soled shoes, with solid platforms or with little stilts, called ha (teeth), on the bottom of the soles; they can be found with one, two or three teeth, the most usual being two. Paulownia wood is popular for geta. They are still worn nowadays and tend not to be too terribly high now, though, in the past their height was often much greater. The design of geta is a practical one; they keep the wearer’s expensive kimono from touching the ground and becoming dirty or damaged. Very high toothed geta were used in winter to keep the kimono off the snow.
The wooden bases are sometimes ornately decorated. The images below show you a very plain vintage pair, a vintage pair of lacquered wood geta, an antique pair and a pair of ama geta, with toe covers, to keep the toes dry in rain.
Plain wood geta
Lacquered wood geta
Ama geta, with removable toe covers, for rainwear
Snow geta – the wooden teeth on the sole raise the kimono off the snow and the spikes give grip, like crampons.
Koi Antique Geta
Geta based beauties by Kenzo
Children’s Ashiato (footprints) Geta
The prints are cat, tyrannosaurus, gecko, monkey and owl.
Names of geta types
Oiran’s Koma geta. Also known as mitsu-ashi (three legs)
Oiran were high-ranking courtesans and prostitutes of the feudal period, considered a type of yujo (woman of pleasure), and they wore this tall, lacquered footwear called koma-geta (or mitsu-ashi – three legs). Unlike geisha and maiko, who only entertain by conversation, singing, musicianship and dancing, oiran were the hierarchy of prostitutes and courtesans in the pleasure quarters in Japan, of whom tayuu were the highest ranking oiran and considered suitable for the daimyo, who were the powerful territorial lords. Only the very wealthiest and highest ranking daimyo could ever hope to patronise tayuu.
Whereas geisha and maiko wear tabi socks, the oiran preferred not to do so, even in winter, and their toes could be seen poking out, under many layers of kimono, while wearing these tall geta. These ultra tall (about 25.5cm), three toothed geta helped differentiate oiran from geisha and maiko. Oiran became highly ritualised in many ways and, ultimately, the culture of the tayu grew increasingly rarefied and remote from everyday life and their clients dwindled. The last recorded oiran was in 1761. Their art and fashions often set trends among the wealthy and, because of this, cultural aspects of oiran traditions continue to be preserved to this day. The few remaining women still currently practicing the arts of the oiran (now without the sexual aspect) do so as a preservation of cultural heritage rather than as a profession or lifestyle.
Maiko (apprentice geisha) wear specific geta called okobo pokkuri; as you can see above. These geta increase the maiko’s height and ensure she walks in small, delicate steps, as everyone in a kimono is meant to, not in long strides. As soon as one is dressed in a kimono, obi and geta or zori, one almost automatically walks in little steps.
These geta are sometimes called pokkuri or koppori; both words are onomatopoeia, that is they represent the sound of walking in them.
Pokkuri and Koppori are usually very ornate and worn by young girls on shichi-go-san (7-5-3) which is a celebration at ages 7, 5, and 3. Maiko’s okobo, however, are generally quite plain, made of unfinished wood. The colour of the straps indicates the rank or experience of the maiko, starting off with red hanao and ending their maiko days with yellow, shortly before becoming full Geisha. Geisha don’t wear okobo, they wear either standard geta or zori. Maiko footwear is exceedingly expensive and somewhat hard to find.
Generally most Japanese people call this style of geta, with the slant-cut front on the underside, senryou-geta. The reason they are called this is that in the 37th year of Meiji (1904) the Russo-Japanese War started and was won by Japan. The Japanese Army then began to occupy many countries on the continent of Asia. In those days, this style of geta, with the slant-cut front on the underside, was very popular in Tokyo. Someone named this style of geta, Senryou, or Senryou-geta because of the patriotic feeling of that time. One meaning of the word Senryou is “occupation”. This meaning was depicted by one particular kanji (Japanese text symbol) but many people felt that this use was very harsh and direct and that it showed an attitude that was not welcome, so, in order to keep the word but soften it, a different kanji began to be used. This different kanji had the same sound “Senryou” but its roots were very different. This new kanji became a lucky word and is still used today. Now the word Senryou means sen = 1000 and ryou = a currency unit from the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867). This high amount of money was considered large and lucky, so senryou-geta started out as meaning “occupation geta”, then, while it kept the same name, the meaning changed to that of being a “very lucky geta” or “great geta”.
Menkoi geta (cute geta)
Round backed heel geta with the slant-cut front on the underside. Many years ago during a time in Japan when foreign shoe styles were becoming popular, Mr. Kunitaro was anxious about the future of the Japanese traditional shoe, geta. He made many different styles of geta from his own ideas and his own work. One such geta he displayed in his shop’s window and it became very popular with customers. They said it was a very cute and pretty style. That style was named “menkoi-geta”. The word “menkoi” is part of the dialect of Northern Honshu and means the same as “kawaii” which is Japanese for “cute” or “pretty”. Your children would enjoy these geta. They have been worn by Japanese people since old times. Mr. Kunitaro Yoshida, the originator of the menkoi-geta, owned the Geta Shop called “Yoshikuni’s” in Iwate. Yoshikuni is the predecessor of the present Akai-hanao-no-jojo.
Tenga geta are one tooth geta. The tooth is replaced when it wears down. Also referred to as ipponba (one tooth) geta. The single tooth is usually around 5 inches high
Ashida geta have two teeth, the height of which can be short or tall. The most common ashida geta are only about two inches high. These are good for everyday wear in fair weather or light rain but, in the rainy season, puddles on the unpaved edo era streets were often deep, so deeper puddles called for higher geta, and the geta-makers (and their geta), rose to the challenge. They made geta with tall teeth; gakusei ashida geta, and ones with tall thin teeth, called takai geta (sometimes takageta), as the thin teeth keep splashing to a minimum. The tall ones are also sometimes called sushi geta because are reported to be worn by sushi makers in restaurants where the arrangement of a sushi bar requires some height and the scraps of raw fish tossed onto the floor instil a desire to not get too close to the ground.
Gakusei-ashida means ‘high geta for students’ and they have thick, high teeth. These are also popular with Bankara students and high school male cheerleaders. Bankara students wear an all black school uniform full of patches and gakusei geta. This is traditional Japanese student-style. They have a lot of guts and stick to their principles.
Onna-kuronuri-hutatuba geta means ‘ladies’ two teeth black geta’.
Pokkuri are worn by little girls and by maiko. They are also called okobo. See the maiko okobo section below for more information.
The insole is rice straw matting. These geta looks a little like centipedes. The Japanese seldom wear these geta. Usually they are were worn at an ironworks or in a ship’s engine room to protect feet from iron scraps or engine oil.
High heeled geta
Geta do not usually have a right or left foot, the toe post is in the centre and the outer side of the foot slightly overhangs the sole. Recently, however, a popular Japanese women’s geta design has the toe hole not in the middle but offset, so that the geta have a definite left and right foot. These are influenced by modern shoes. These geta’s characteristics are narrower for women and made with a clear foot shape. The traditional geta are very square but these new geta are more fashionable.
Another high heeled geta but less extreme than the ones above.
Ukon geta are women’s geta and are easier to wear than those with the high teeth. They can also be purchased with much squarer toes than those shown above, The ones in the picture are geta_ukon_kuro_onna, meaning, ukon geta in black (kuro) for women (onna).
In the picture above, you can see men’s ukon geta. Usually worn with casual yukata kimonos.
How to wear geta
Most women wear zori with kimono. Zori are thong toed, usually wedge soled, though sometimes flat shoes. You soetimes see zori spelled zoori or zouri. The thong toe on Japanese footwear is always attached at the front centre of the sole and worn with the big toe to one side and the rest of the toes to the other. Western world flip-flops usually have the thong toe offset to one side, to allow the sole of the foot to lie centrally on the shoe sole but not so with Japanese ones (although the offset toe post is actually now just beginning to creep into a few contemporary designs of zori but, generally, the central post remains standard). Because the thong is central, the outer side of the foot often overhangs the side of the sole a little, as can be seen in the photos with maiko okobo, above, and the pair of black zori at the top of this blog entry. The heel often overhangs the back of the sole a little too.
The images below show pairs of zori: one silk brocade covered pair, with matching clutch bag, one with beaded soles and thongs (hanao) and one pair of rain zori, designed to keep the feet dry. The black shoes shown at the top of this footwear blog post show zori worn with tabi socks.
Brocade covered zori, with matching clutch bag
Covered toe zori are called shigure and are worn on cold or rainy days
Girls’ bunny zori
How cute are these?
Irregular Choice Zori
They tie at the ankles, with pompoms on the ties. That’s my daughter in the photos
It’s hard to make out in the photo below but those Irregular Choice zori have
a geisha holding a bangasa (Japanese parasol) on the bottom of each sole
Men wear wooden geta, waraji and setta sandals, like the tatami waraji shown at the top of this blog post, or the footwear shown below. The white setta below are actually Buddhist monk’s sandals
Ryu (dragon) and shogi (Japanese chess pieces) pattern men’s setta
With all this footwear, one wears tabi socks, designed to be worn with thong toes, unless wearing a casual, cotton yukata kimono, in which case one does not wear tabi. Another exception is the waraji sandals, often worn without tabi, especially by workers in rural areas. The older style of tabi is non-stretch, with kohaze fasteners, and the more contemporary style is stretchy and without fasteners. Shoes are removed when entering a Japanese home; one walks on their scrupulously clean floors in one’s tabi socks or a pair of indoor tatami sandals. You can see tabi being worn in the photo at the very top of this footwear blog post, with the black zori.
You can also get knee high, stirrup stockings, called kyahan, to wear under tabi.
There is also other tabi toed footwear, such as jika-tabi, worn as outdoor tabi like ninja boots, worn in some martial arts or just worn casually. They are a 20th century creation. The example below is a pair of canvas, rubber soled tabi boots, with kohaze fasteners. Nike also recently produced a range of tabi toed trainer shoes and boots, called Nike Rifts, to introduce the acupressure effects of tabi toes to the sports trainer.
Contemporary tabi boots
There are many other pairs of Japanese shoes on my website at Wafuku.co.uk and all sorts of other information about Japanese clothing and collectables
Make Your Own Geta
There’s a great site called Instructables, with tips about various things and instructions on how to make all sorts of stuff. One thing I found there was instructions for making a pair of geta. You can see the instructions here. Perhaps you could make your own ashiato geta, like the children’s cute ones shown further up this post, with whatever footprint you choose in place of the two ha (teeth).