Japanese Footwear @ Karankoron - Geta and Zoriby Caroline Seawright
April 4, 2001
Japanese Footwear @ Karankoron - Geta and Zori
Geta are high wooden shoes, with thong-like straps. I'd recently bought a pair of black and red lacquered geta, and though easy enough to wear, I wanted to see if I could find the proper way of walking in them. (Geisha, for instance, walk by sliding their feet forward with their knees slightly bent, taking small but elegant-looking steps.)
What I found out was a whole new world of information about geta! Not only is there a huge range of styles of these shoes - different heights and colours - but there are so many different designs! There are also interesting tidbits about geta for the uninitiated - the best size for you is a geta 5cm smaller than your foot!
Some of the more unusual geta on this site are ice-skates, women's high heeled versions, one pronged Tengu versions and ones that are made from a circle of wood, so each shoe is a half-circle!
Karankoron is the name of the web site. I didn't understand the URL, but the site explains that this is the Japanese sound-word for the sound geta make when someone is walking in them! The sound is important to geta in Japan. It invokes different feelings from different people, but it's an integral part of the shoes themselves. Without the sound, I don't think they can truly be geta!
Some comments about the sound of the geta are:
There is an emotion because it is a sound not heard at all in the age today and I like it very much.
I think that it is a good sound. A sound that I do not want to be lost.
I want to apologise when the sound is too loud.
The webmaster of Karankoron was looking for various non-Japanese people to try out his zori, and fill out a survey about the experience of wearing zori.
Zori are a little like thonged sandals, except that they could be made with rush matting (like the tatami mat), or they could be made from a shiny brocade for wearing with formal a kimono.
I was lucky - I was one of the last people to be able to enter the survey, and I received a free pair of zori! Surprisingly, zori are very comfortable to walk around on. The matting feels good against the feet... where geta are hard, zori are soft.
In fact, they don't really look anything different to a normal pair of sandals, when you are wearing them. (The pair that I got, though, were a size too big, so they look a little odd.) If you get the correct size, I don't see why they can't be worn around the house in summer, or to the beach or swimming pool!
One of the special features of this shop is the fact that they will fix any coloured or patterned hanao (thong) to the zori! They have a huge selection of patterns and colours for the buyer. You could quite easily match a hanao to your swim suit or a favourite t-shirt and shorts combination!
The usual colour of a hanao is black for men and red for women. This is why this shop is so special - they can fix different thongs to your zori while you wait!
The hanao on my zori is a pink squared pattern, with cute little characters on it. It's actually quite cute and I think it would be great to wear at a pool-side, especially with my new pinkish coloured bikini!
Rush mat zori are traditional Japanese summer shoes, for wearing with a yukata. Formal zori are for wearing with a kimono. They have been around since the Heian period. Generally, men's zori are squarish while women's zori are more rounded.
Now most of the Karankoron site is in Japanese.
You can also try The Geta Page for information on how to make your own geta!
During the Nara Period (710-794), the Japanese aristocracy wore shoes or boots, influenced by the Chinese style footwear. It wasn't until the Heian Period (794-1192) that zori and geta were worn.
The climate in Japan is very humid and shoes become rather stuffy during the summer season. Compared to the old style of footwear, zori and geta are cool and good summer wear. They are shoes that are truly native to Japan, not influenced by the previous Chinese style.
People continued to wear geta and zori through the Tokugawa Period (1603-1867), where many different styles of geta started to appear. Due to the closure of Japan to foreigners, Japanese culture (and footwear) flourished.
With the Meiji Period (1868-1911) came a new era, and Japan open itself back up to foreigners. Foreign style shoes started to become popular, and the Japanese style of footwear slowly started to be driven out of the market. Nowadays it is difficult to find people who wear geta in Japan, even in summer. Geta are no longer regarded daily footwear by regular Japanese. When geta are worn, it is when someone is dressed in a kimono, going to a festival. Even then, the geta might have rubber fixed to the foot, blocking out the distinctive sound of the geta - karankoron.
Japanese geta-ya (geta shops) are worried about the future of these traditional shoes. They make many different style of geta using their own imagination or current fashion trends to keep the geta alive. There are only a few specialty geta-ya in Japan.
In 1996 when Paris and Milan companies put out footwear similar in style to the strap used for geta and zori (hanao), both geta and zori suddenly became all the rage. Japanese young people created a boom for the traditional footwear during the summer of 1997 - geta or zori shops could not keep up with the demand!
Now, Japanese style footwear is still pretty popular among the young people. Japanese young buy these shoes as a fashion statement, paying attention to the shape and the many colorful hanao. Geta and zori are also given attention because they are known as to be shoes to stimulate the foot and improve health. These geta are good as gifts and symbolise well-wishes for good health in the future.
* Many thanks to Jojo-san, who provided this information.
© Caroline 'Kunoichi' Seawright 2001 - present
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