Waraji sandals are made of woven straw. Long straw straps attached to the front pass through loops on the sides and heel, and are tied around the ankle to fasten the sole to the foot. Waraji are light, permitting nimble footsteps, and they are cheap to make, so in the old days, they were worn by lower ranking soldiers, construction workers, and ordinary people when traveling.
The straw zori is an improved version of the waraji, and is said to be the ancestor of the beach sandal now worn around the world. It has a thong and an oval sole, both made of woven straw. The big and second toes grip the shaft of the thong. One variation for the military class in the middle ages was the heel-less ashinaka, designed for the battlefield. In time, people began wearing zori for farm work. During the Edo period (1603-1867), zori makers set up shop in urban areas and were soon producing different types. One type, now considered a typical zori, was the setta sandalthe top part of the sole had a bamboo sheath weave, the underside was covered with leather, and the heel had a metal fitting. Other zori had fancy shapes and luxurious designs.
A geta is basically a rectangular wooden sole with two wooden supports under it and a thong on top. The toes grip the shaft of the thong, just like wearing zori. Picture scrolls from as far back as the 10th century show people in geta, indicating that geta have been worn for a long time. By the beginning of the 18th century, better tools had been developed to mass-produce geta, and they became quite the fashion in the city of Edo (present-day Tokyo). They became more and more gaudy, and this prompted the Shogunate, which punished the common folk for ostentatious lifestyles, to forbid the wearing of lacquered geta. Until shoes became common, geta remained the footwear of choiceproduction peaked in 1955 at 93 million pairs, and plummeted thereafter.
Tabi are like socks, except that they are designed to be worn with zori or waraji. Tabi help keep the feet warm in winter and prevent sores from forming where the thong rubs against the foot. These "socks" are unique because of the notch between the big and second toes, to accommodate the shaft of the thong.
Jika-tabi boots are notched like tabi, but have a rubber sole so that they can be worn outdoors without any other footwear. They were invented in 1922 by two brothers in the Ishibashi family, Tokujiro and Shojiro. The Ishibashi were tabi makers, and their company went on to become Bridgestone Corporation, the tire manufacturer. The Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 offered an opportunity for the new jika-tabi boots to play an important role in reconstruction efforts. Jika-tabi prevent slipping, and the notch gives the toes a better grip in difficult places, which explains why they are still used at construction sites in Japan.
Modern Japan has taken on many Western habits, and shoes are now worn outside, to the almost complete exclusion of other footwear. But the custom of not wearing shoes in the home remains, and this has led to the use of uwabaki
slippers in schools. Some other types of footwear developed in modern Japan are designed to promote health. And the old-fashioned geta
are making a comeback, because it is said that wearing them without socks can improve blood circulation.
Fuka-gutsu: Boots made from woven barley straw. Designed to keep out moisture and cold when walking in snow.
Waraji: Still worn by some fishermen in mountain streams, for a better grip.
Ashinaka: The toes and heel protrude beyond the sole, to give more grip and make footwork easier.
Kanjiki: Worn below shoes to prevent sinking in deep snow.
Wara-zori: Zori sandals took different shapes and used different materials over the centuries. This shape is perhaps close to the original one.