Japanese American Traditions

Geta, Zori, or Tabi...What’s On Your Feet?

Whether for fashion or comfort, sandals are a popular style of footwear in the U.S. From casual “flip-flops” to “chic & trendy” footwear, sandals have become an essential complement to one’s wardrobe.

In Japan, traditional footwear can be primarily categorized as the “geta”, “zori”, or “waraji” sandals. Geta are made from a flat piece of wood on two slats (called “ha” or ”teeth“) that raise the sole 4 to 5 cm. off the ground, to keep the Japanese kimono from getting dirty.

Zori are sandals made from rice straw or lacquered wood, and are worn with a kimono for formal occasions. Both the geta and zori are held on the feet by a hanao (thong), which is usually black for men and red for women. Zori are usually worn with white, split-toe cotton socks called “tabi”. Waraji, usually worn by Buddhist monks, are sandals made from straw rope.

A common practice and custom among Japanese (and Japanese Americans) is removing one’s shoes when entering someone’s home. This custom is a combination of cleanliness and the fact that traditional flooring in Japan is made of “tatami”, straw matting that is easily damaged by footwear. When entering a home’s “genkan” (entrance hallway), shoes must be removed, and the formal etiquette is to leave them neatly aligned and to the side, facing inwards (the host turns them around the puts them in the center before you leave). These customs, the act of removing your shoes, is symbolic of casting off worries and troubles as well as the dirt of the outside world. “Dosoku de agarikomu” (literally, go inside with soiled feet) is a metaphor for meddling thoughtlessly in someone else’s affairs.

July 2005

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