Traditional Japanese Footwear

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

Antique 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 okobo

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.

Senryou geta

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

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

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

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.

Bankara students

Onna-kuronuri-hutatuba geta

Onna-kuronuri-hutatuba geta means ‘ladies’ two teeth black geta’.

Pokkuri geta

Pokkuri are worn by little girls and by maiko. They are also called okobo. See the maiko okobo section below for more information.

Itaura geta

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.

Geta reeno

Another high heeled geta but less extreme than the ones above.

Ukon geta

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).

Ukon Shiraki

In the picture above, you can see men’s ukon geta. Usually worn with casual yukata kimonos.

Geta parts

How to wear geta

Zori

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

Beaded zori

Shigure zori
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’s Footwear

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

Men’s geta

Setta sandals

Ryu (dragon) and shogi (Japanese chess pieces) pattern men’s setta

Tabi

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.

Tabi socks

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

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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).

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22 comments

  1. Please please why can I not get on your website. I desperately want to get two kimonos for next friday and cannot get on. I have bought from you before and your kimonos have been wonderful.

    1. Hi.
      BT have screwed up and my website cannot be reached until they fix it, which may take a couple of days. I’ve just been writing a blog about it to get it off my chest.

      I have emailed you to let you know what happened and that you can still get the kimonos on time, though.

      I’m sorry about this. I am furious with BT for their stupidity, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time.

      Ceri

  2. I have recently found an old pair of japanese shoes that my uncle brought back in either 1956 or 57. I was wondering if you could identify and give me an idea on their value. There are in mint condition. Thanks.

    1. Hi.
      I’m no expert and as for value, my prices are based mostly on my various costs, such as the item itself, business loan interests, site running costs, time put in to the business and various other things. You could perhaps look at my site and see if there is anything similar and judge by that.
      If the shoes are thong toed and wood soled with two little ‘stilts’, they are geta, if they are thong toed with solid wedge soles, they are zori (sometimes spelled zouri), if they are thong toed with extremely high, solid wood soles, they could be maiko okobo geta. I’m not good at dating footwear.

  3. hi blogger moderator! i just wanted to know where can i buy those traditional jap slippers? i’v been wanting to have 1 but there is none of them i can find especially the waraji tatami sandals and men’s geta!! :D please if u sell this slippers i’ll be glad to buy it :). thnx!

    1. Hello.
      I only ever had one pair of tatami waraji sandals and those were sold a while ago. \my items are vintage, so I couldn’t order specific things, I just chose from a random selection available. I have a few men’s geta and a pair of setta available at http://www.wafuku.co.uk/index.php?c=47 but not much at all and it is all I have in my collection of stuff. I don’t know where you’d get any waraji, I’ve never come across others.

    1. I don’t know a huge amount about Japanese dance but, as far as I am aware, it is usually done without shoes, in just tabi socks
      For example, see… http://www.scenicreflections.com/download/249991/Japanese_dance_Wallpaper/

      and

      http://www.japaneselifestyle.com.au/culture/japanese_dance.html

      Although I have also seen dance done in geta, rather like tap dance, as you see if you open this url…
      http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-1930914/stock-photo-traditional-japanese-dance.html

      and the dance from the very end of the film Zatoichi, here (check it at about 1 minute 20 seconds in)…

      Note, in that clip, that their heels hang over the back of the geta soles, which is how they are traditionally worn, though not tied round the ankle, that is just done here to make it possible to dance like that in them, otherwise they would fall off. The 4 main guys dancing are called The Stripes. I love their dancing, pariculalrly in Tap vs Shamen; it’s worth looking that clip up on YouTube too.

      …but the more usual forms of traditional Japanese dance seem to be done in tabi.

  4. Is there anyway I can purchase a pair of koma geta (mitsu-ashi)? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance!!!

    1. I am really glad you like it. I have not written a blog post for quite a while, so it is time I added another to it.
      Thank you for your kind comment.

  5. We have came across a geta that was found in the woods of Osaka Japan durring the 1940’s by a soldier. It is just one shoe. I’ve tried researching it and can not find any that has straps like it. Its straps are green braids and they are soft. I have pictures and would love for someone to help me find out.

    1. I wouldn’t be able to help at all. All I know about Japanese footwear is what I have written in the blog. Specific straps won’t mean anything to me, I’m afraid

  6. I have a question, I bought a kimono but didn’t buy the geta with it. Nor the tabi socks. I am going to a Obon Festival located in the Morikami Gardens in Florida. I would really love to wear my kimono to it. Am I able to wear western shoes with kimonos? And are there any restrictions on the way the hair should be worn?

    1. Well, I am certainly too late to answer this. I was not able to do anything with this blog for the best part of a year and have ust got back to it.
      I hope you enjoyed the Obon Festival. I doubt anyone at the festival would have minded if you wore Western shoes, I’ve seen some women in pictures from Japanese festivals who are wearing casual yukata type kimonos with Western sandals instead of geta. Yukata are very casual kimonos for wear at festivals (they are cotton and have no lining) and, being so casual, you can get away with more. The rules for kimono wearing, especially the more formal types, are many and complex. One rule you must never break, even with festival wear, is left front on top of right front, whether on a man or a woman. NEVER the other way, only corpses wear it the other way round. My daughter remembers which way by thinking of the phrase, left over rice, which is a phrase we heard used by a Japanese woman on YouTube, as a way of remembering.

    2. What type of Japanese footwear you wear depends on the type of kimono you have. Some Japanese people are now mixing contemporary/western shoes and garments with traditional Japanese clothing, so I don’t see why you shouldn’t.
      As for hair, I really don’t know.
      I would suggest doing an online image search of similar festivals to see what is being worn at those.

  7. I have a pair of geta which do not have straps or holes for straps. Very old, for a narrow foot (probably lady’s foot). Dark wood, painted design. Is there a way to send a picture to you? Have you heard of such a geta? I got them in Japan back in ’62, and they were old already.

    1. I have never heard of geta without straps. How do they stay on? Perhaps they are just unfinished.

      1. Sounds like unfinished would be a good theory, but they are certainly finished. I wonder if I have the right word (geta) for what they are. Maybe there was a kind that just tied on somehow, like a wrap. Except for the holes and straps, they are classic geta, and although not so small as a child’s foot, they are a little lady’s foot size. Having lived in Japan from ’64 to ’66, I saw a lot of little ladies. And little men. They’re not so small anymore. Thanks for writing.
        Lee

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