Cultural Footsteps: Japanese Shoes from Geta To Tabi And Their Significance

In Japan, shoes have long since surpassed utilitarianism to become a cultural icon representing customs, manners, and style.

Japanese shoes provide an insight into the rich artistic legacy of the nation, from the elevated platforms of geta to the elaborate designs adorning formal zori. 

This article explores the various forms of traditional Japanese shoes, emphasizing their practicality and lasting value.

Understanding these unusual shoes can help you have greater respect for Japanese customs and craftsmanship, whether you’re an experienced Japanophile or just interested in learning more about a different way of life.

Common Types of Traditional Japanese Shoes

Geta (Wooden Clogs)

Traditional Japanese footwear called “geta” has an elevated wooden platform secured to the foot by a fabric thong between the big and second toes.

The height of the platform itself varies; most geta have one or two “teeth” under the wood to provide elevation.

Geta are traditionally made of wood, usually zelkova or paulownia. Modern iterations, however, might use plastics or other lightweight materials.

Styles can be anything from plain and unadorned to highly detailed lacquerware or painted designs.

Geta has several useful uses. An elevated platform helps keep feet dry when navigating muddy or uneven terrain.

Furthermore, the “teeth” on the underside of the geta make a characteristic clicking sound when they walk, which can be used to announce one’s presence outside or as a noise deterrent inside.

Zori (Straw Sandals)

Similar to geta but without the elevated platform, zori are flat sandals fastened to the foot with a thong. Usually, they are made of woven rice straw or other plant materials like jute or hemp.

Zori is available in many different styles, with the materials and designs influenced by the sandal’s formality.

Formal zori are typically made from higher-quality straw and may have a more intricate woven pattern.

They are frequently worn with kimonos. Informal zori are made of stronger materials and have a more straightforward design, making them appropriate for daily wear.

For warmer weather, Zori is a useful and cosy option for shoes. Good ventilation is made possible by the breathable straw construction, which keeps feet cool.

Zori is also flexible and lightweight, making for a comfortable walking experience.

Tabi (Split-Toe Socks)

The big toe and the other four are separated in tabi socks, giving them a distinctive look.

This split-toe design is compatible with footwear like geta and zori, where the thong divides the big toe from the other toes. Cotton or synthetic materials are commonly used to make tabi.

Although cotton is the most popular material for tabi, silk tabi is also offered for dressier events. There could also be differences in thickness, colour, and length.

There are two primary uses for tabi. First, when paired with shoes with thong separators between the big toe and other toes, the split-toe style promotes a more snug fit.

Second, tabi was traditionally worn inside Japanese homes to guard the delicate tatami floor mats.

Special Footwear For Different Occasions

Geta decorations depend on the formality of the occasion they are worn at. Formal geta frequently have a higher platform and more intricate designs, usually worn with a kimono.

These patterns might use lacquerware with elaborate patterns or lucky charms. Informal geta are typically simpler in design and have a lower platform, making them appropriate for daily wear. They could be left plain or have only a few decorations.

Traditional Japanese sandals, known as waraji, are made completely of straw rope.

Waraji does not have a thong like a geta or zori; instead, the foot is fastened through an intricate weaving pattern that encircles the ankle and toes.

Due to their affordability and practicality, waraji were traditionally regarded as very informal footwear, mostly worn by labourers, farmers, and tourists. 

Because of its straightforward design, easily accessible materials could be used for replacement or easy repairs.

Despite their decreased usage, Waraji are still used in some rural areas and are occasionally seen as part of traditional Japanese festivals.

Jikatabi, a contemporary take on tabi socks, has a rubber outsole fused to the conventional split-toe textile.

This creative design combines the familiarity and comfort of Tabi with the functionality of a long-lasting, waterproof sole.

When jikatabis were created in the early 20th century, they became very popular with people who needed outdoor footwear and construction workers.

Jikatabi are still popular for manual labour and outdoor activities today because they fit comfortably and securely even in rough or wet conditions.

Evolution Of Footwear In Modern Japan

Western footwear had a big impact on Japanese society in the 20th century. With the advent of shoes, boots, and sneakers, there were more fashionable and useful options.

Most Japanese people’s daily footwear choices today reflect this influence. Traditional footwear hasn’t completely vanished, though. Geta, zori, and tabi are stylish summer footwear for religious ceremonies and cultural events.

The coexistence of modern and traditional styles reflects Japanese culture’s adaptability, which embraces innovation while respecting tradition.


Japanese shoes are useful for many things. Traditional shoes, such as geta and zori, are made especially for navigating different types of terrain and weather and providing foot protection.

Social etiquette also extends to footwear selection, with particular looks reserved for formal events. But more than just functionality, Japanese shoes are significant. 

One may view their elaborate patterns and variations as creativity and style sense displays.

Understanding these distinctive shoes’ beauty and tradition helps us better comprehend Japanese culture and its enduring legacy.