Traditional Japanese footwear has two major historical roots. One type comes from southern China and Southeast Asia, and features a thong coming from the front of the sole. The foot slips under the thong and the big and second toes grip the shaft. This open design is ideal in hot and humid climates, and makes putting on and taking off the sandal easy. The other type of footwear comes from northern China and the Korean peninsula. The foot is completely covered, much like when wearing a shoe.
During the Yayoi period more than 2,000 years ago, farmers in Japan wore tageta to keep their feet from sinking into the mud when transplanting rice seedlings. Tageta were made of boards larger than the feet. Cords for the feet to catch on were threaded through holes in the boards. Tageta are assumed to be the ancestor of geta (wooden clogs), which developed later.
Shoes have been discovered in 6th-century tombs of members of the ruling class. The shoes were metal-plated, following a design from the Korean peninsula, and they were very ornate, so they were obviously not for everyday use. Later, shoes for ceremonial use were worn at the Court and at Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Even today, the traditional ceremonial dress for members of the Imperial Household includes ornate shoes carved from wood. In ancient times, cloth and leather shoes were also worn. Woven straw shoes were introduced from China around the 8th century, and before long they evolved into straw sandals called waraji, which were more suitable for the Japanese climate and the custom of removing footwear before entering a house.
Tageta were worn in rice fields until after World War II. This type was called oashi.
A typical woodblock print scene showing common folk sometime after 1750. The young woman has thrust her bare feet into geta, and her maid follows behind in zori. This print is called Ogi no Seiran (Refreshing Breeze from a Folding Fan), and is from the Zashiki Hakkei series by Suzuki Harunobu.