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Geta and Zori: Traditional Japanese Footwear

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Geta and zori are both traditional types of Japanese footwear that have been worn since ancient times. Let's learn more about what they actually are and how to go about buying a pair for yourself.

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Geta and zori are both traditional kinds of footwear that have been used in Japan since ancient times. Before the introduction of western culture, Japanese people didn't wear shoes, but instead wore geta and zori when venturing outside. Even nowadays geta and zori are indispensable, especially when one wears a kimono or other traditional-type clothing.

Today we're going to teach you basic information about geta and zori which we'd like you to keep in mind, particularly when wearing Japanese traditional wear.

What Exactly Are Geta and Zori?

Though the fundamental shapes of geta and zori are similar, there are big differences when you pick them up and look at their bottoms. On the underside of geta there are wooden stilts or protrusions called "teeth". The standard geta calls for two of these teeth which make contact with the ground when one is walking. Though slightly unusual, occasionally geta have no teeth or have thick soles on their bottoms, but, generally speaking, this footwear made from wood is called geta.

Though geta and zori are worn in the same way, zori have flat bottoms with no teeth. On the surface of geta and zori there is something called a hanao (referred to as a thong from here on), usually made from cloth. When one puts on this footwear, the main part of the thong passes between the big toe and the second toe. Zori have the same shape as and are easily worn just like beach sandals.

When Are Geta Usually Worn?

In the days before roads were paved, the teeth on the underside of geta allowed people to walk safely without tripping and falling especially on rainy days when the roads were muddy and wet. The geta also prevented the hem of the kimono from being soiled and dirtied. These days, geta are usually worn as part of a yukata's matching ensemble.

One of the charming symbols of summer is the sight of people wearing yukata and geta at summer festivals and firework displays. Also at a Japanese hot spring, it's usually possible to rent or borrow the resort's original-style yukata and geta. One of geta's delightful characteristics is the "clacking" sound that the teeth of the geta make when one walks along stone-paved roads and concrete surfaces.

Pokkuri Geta have platform shoe-like thick wooden soles instead of teeth, and are usually worn by maiko and also by young girls decked out in their Sunday best on the day of their Shichi-Go-San celebrations.

When Are Zori Usually Worn?

Nowadays zori are usually worn when one is dressed in formal Japanese attire, and the surface is often made from leather, cloth or vinyl.

Historically many people wore straw zori that were made by simply weaving straw together. In the days before shoes with design patterns became commonplace, people involved in agriculture would weave straw in their homes and make waraji (straw sandals) which were used for work purposes. Setta were one variety of waraji that were worn mostly by men. They were rectangular in shape and had characteristically thin soles.

Zori with a white-colored thong are used primarily when wearing formal clothes, and zori with a black-colored thong are used in more everyday situations, so one of the characteristics is that the color of its thong often dictates how and in what situation zori are used.

Wearing geta in the snow makes for difficult walking because the snow often gets stuck to the teeth of the geta, and according to sources is one of the reasons why setta came into common use. They're durable and easy to wear and the fact that they slip on and off effortlessly makes them popular footwear among laborers and craftspeople.

How to Choose and Put on Geta

Next, some pointers on how to go about purchasing geta and zori.

First we need to select a thong. The simplest way to choose a thong is to select one that matches the color of the obi (decorative sash) of your kimono. In order to prevent friction between the top of your foot and the part of the thong that is attached to the geta, choose a thong that is made with a thick material and has a lining that is smooth rather than bumpy and uneven.

Next we need to choose the proper size of the geta. When wearing Japanese formal clothes, your heel should extend about one centimeter off the back of the daiza, or wooden body of the geta. If your heel fits perfectly onto the body of the geta, you might accidentally step onto the hem of your kimono or formal wear.

Also if the tips of your toes extend over the front edge of the geta it will be difficult to walk. So when first purchasing geta, we highly recommend trying out different ones until you find a pair that feels comfortable for you.

After you purchase your geta it's a good idea to adjust the thong. First, with your hands, massage and rub the portion of the thong that passes between your big toe and second toe in order to soften it. Then from where the thong is attached to the geta's wooden base, gently pull it upwards and adjust it according to your foot's shape and height of your foot's instep.

At first the thong material is hard, so if you try to put on the geta too quickly you might twist it out of shape. If the thong gets twisted, the geta can sometimes become uncomfortable to wear and the twisted portion can cause blisters from the ensuing friction. So please make a point of taking your time when putting on the geta.

Sprinkling some baking powder or rubbing some soap over the area between your big toe and second toe, will make it easier to slide into your geta and will prevent the thong from rubbing or chafing your skin.

If your geta are the kind where there are three openings through which the thong passes through and is secured, we've been told that if you go to a specialty footwear store it's possible to have the thong adjusted and also replaced. However, adjustments or changes can't be made if the thong is made of rubber or a similar material and if the thong is permanently embedded into the sole of the footwear.

Geta or zori sold at specialty stores have an image of being expensive, but if the thongs can be changed and or adjusted to fit your feet, then you can't help but feel happy that you now own a pair of geta perfectly suited just for you!

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