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Traditional Japanese Footwear Attracts New Fans (March 18, 2005)

Tabi with a modern twist (SOU•SOU)
People interested in traditional Japanese dress might be familiar with tabi, the split-toe socks that are worn with kimono. Now these uniquely shaped socks are capturing the attention of young Japanese designers and even the fashion world outside of Japan. Various new twists on this age-old footwear are helping tabi to establish themselves as a new option for fashion-conscious consumers choosing socks to wear with Western clothing.

Fashion Extends to Heavy-Duty Work Tabi
Heavy-duty rubber-soled tabi worn by carpenters and other laborers as work shoes are known as jikatabi, and the popularity of split-toed footwear has even extended to these functional items. In recent years, jikatabi have undergone an array of improvements to make them more comfortable and easier to walk in. Enhancements include sponge insoles for greater comfort, steel reinforcement for improved safety, the use of infrared technology to hold in warmth, and waterproofing. The sneaker-like jikatabi that have recently hit the streets combine eye-catching design with the functionality of the original article.

For the past two years, a shop in Kyoto called SOU-SOU has been offering jikatabi in nontraditional materials, colors, and designs. The demand for these products among young people and foreign tourists has prompted SOU-SOU to set up shops in Tokyo's stylish Aoyama district and in Osaka. SOU-SOU is also selling the tabi through selected shops in the United States, Sweden, Denmark, and Italy.

The trend of pairing tabi with Western-style clothing is being driven by foreign designers intrigued by the shape of these traditional socks. As far back as 1988, avant-garde designer Martin Margiela used jikatabi as the inspiration to create heeled "tabi shoes." Since then, Margiela has changed his materials and designs to produce variations on the tabi theme each season, with examples including long boot-like tabi and tabi made of satin. In 1994, US sporting goods manufacturer Nike came out with the Air Rift Series, which featured a split-toe design. Created for the Kenyan national running team, who used to practice in their bare feet, the shoes are said to approximate the sensation of running barefoot. After these special shoes began to attract the attention of a wider audience, the company created various styles and patterns and marketed them as street wear. The series has been nicknamed Ninja.

Taking Over Department-Store Shelves
Traditional tabi have two toe compartments, one for the big toe and one for the other four toes, but another kind of split-toe sock, one with five toes, is also experiencing a boom in popularity. Five-toed socks allow the toes to spread out, making walking more comfortable. This comfort factor has made five-toed socks very popular among young Japanese women. According to some trend-watchers, the recent interest in tabi for health and fitness purposes is an outgrowth of the fashion craze for five-toed socks. These days five-toed socks bursting with different colors and patterns are a common sight in the sock sections of department stores and large supermarkets.

Fukusuke, a long-established retailer of tabi and socks, is also currently selling colorful tabi-style socks. Perhaps as a result of the split-toed-sock craze, even tabi designed to be worn with kimono are appearing in an array of colors and patterns. The Kobe branch of the Daimaru department store has a section called the Tabi Bar, where customers can choose from about a hundred different colors and prints. Among the most novel motifs are pictures of carp and of the lions that guard Shinto shrines. These tabi can be paired with either Western clothing or kimono.

On the streets of Tokyo and other cities, a growing number of young trendsetters can be spotted wearing split-toed socks in ways that bring this traditional Japanese footwear firmly into the twenty-first century.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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