image

TRADITIONAL JAPANESE FOOTWEAR (GETA)

  /  News   /  TRADITIONAL JAPANESE FOOTWEAR (GETA)

TRADITIONAL JAPANESE FOOTWEAR (GETA)

By: Frank Teichert, Curator – DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

 

The geta is a traditional form of Japanese footwear that resembles both clogs and flip-flops. They are a kind of sandal with an elevated wooden base held onto the foot with a fabric thong to keep the foot well above the ground. They are worn with traditional Japanese clothing such as a kimono or yukata (a casual version of the kimono), but in Japan they are also worn with Western clothing during the summer months. Sometimes geta are worn in rain or snow to keep the feet dry, due to their extra height and are impermeable compared to other shoes such as zori (a traditional Japanese sandal with a straw sole).

 

Geta from the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History’s collection.

 

Styles of Geta

 

There are several different styles of geta, the most familiar style in the West consists of an unfinished wooden board called a dai (stand) that the foot is set upon, with a cloth thong (hanao) that passes between the big toe and second toe. As geta are usually worn only with yukata or other informal Japanese clothes or Western clothes, there is no need to wear socks. Ordinary people wear at least slightly more formal thong sandals made of rice straw, cloth, lacquered wood, leather, rubber, or synthetic materials (zori), when wearing special toe socks called tabi. Apprentice geisha for example, also called (maiko), wear special sandals (geta) with socks (tabi) to accommodate the cloth thong (hanao).

 

Zori sandals made from straw. Notice the tabi socks.

 

The two supporting pieces below the base board, called “teeth” (ha), are also made of wood, usually very lightweight kiri (paulownia or Princess Tree) and make a distinctive “clacking” sound while walking, (karankoron). This is sometimes mentioned as one of the sounds that older Japanese miss most in modern life.

The Construction

 

The dai may vary in shape, from oval (more feminine) to rectangular (more masculine) and colour (natural, lacquered, or stained). The ha may also vary in style; for example, tengu-geta have only a single centred “tooth”. There are also less common geta with three “teeth”. Fish merchants for example used very high geta (two long “teeth”) to keep the feet well above the seafood scraps on the floor. The “teeth” are usually not separate, instead, the geta is carved from one block of wood.

 

The tengu “tooth” is, however, strengthened by a special attachment. The “teeth” of any geta may have harder wood drilled into the bottom of the “teeth” to avoid splitting, and the soles of the “teeth” may have rubber soles glued onto them.

 

The hanao can be wide and padded, or narrow and hard, and it can be made with a number of different sorts of fabric. Printed cotton with traditional Japanese motifs is popular, but there are also geta with vinyl and leather hanao. Inside the hanao is a cord (recently synthetic, but traditionally hemp) that is knotted in a specific way and attached to the three holes of the dai. In the wide hanao there is some padding for comfort and the hanao are replaceable. It sits between the two first toes because having the thong of rectangular geta anywhere but the middle would result in the inner back corners of the geta colliding when walking. Recently, as Western shoes have become more popular, more Western looking geta have been developed. They are more round in shape, may have an ergonomically shaped dai, a thick heel as in Western clogs, instead of separate “teeth”, and the thong at the side as in flip-flops. According to Japanese superstition, breaking the thong on one’s geta is considered very unlucky.

 

Modern Geta

 

Customs

 

The Geisha

Maiko wear distinctive tall geta called okobo which are similar to the chopine (a type of women’s platform shoe that was popular in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries), worn in Venice during the Renaissance. Very young girls wear okobo, also called pokkuri and koppori, that have a small bell inside a cavity in the thick sole. These geta have no “teeth” but are formed of one piece of wood. The middle part is carved out from below and the front is sloped to accommodate for walking. Pokkuri are usually red in colour and are not worn with yukata, but a very fancy kimono (such as at shichi-go-san festivals).

 

Two geisha wearing two different types of geta.

 

The Sumo

Japanese professional sumo wrestlers in the lowest two divisions of Jonokuchi and Jonidan must wear geta with their yukata at all times. The clacking sound that geta make when walking is consequently something aspiring sumo stars wish to leave behind as soon as possible.

 

Sumo wrestlers.

This is the first article in a series of articles that will look at some of the more interesting shoe collections housed at DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History. Look out for the next interesting article on the Museum’s shoe collection.

Ditsong Logo