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Traditional Japanese Footwear “Geta”; Which Should You Buy?

“Geta” had once been footwear worn daily in Japan. After World War II, along with the change of Japanese’s everyday clothes from Japanese to western, footwear has also changed from geta to shoes. And with the role of Japanese kimono changing from everyday items to luxury goods or attire for special occasions, geta has also become footwear for special days and the everyday use had gradually diminished. Photo: flickr.com

However in recent years in addition to expensive Japanese kimono, affordably priced kimono has become available for young people to enjoy, and virtue and stylishness of geta has started to receive renewed recognition. Geta isn’t likely to become mainstream, everyday footwear as it once was, but we would be able to pass on the virtue of geta in many ways to the future generations.

 

History of Geta

下駄

japanese-shoes-geta002
https://www.flickr.com

In ancient Japan, geta was used not as footwear but rather it was widely used as a tool for work. In particular what’s generally known among the Japanese is “ta-geta”, which was used when working in muddy places like rice fields, or to flatten the field. Unlike the shape of today’s geta, the wooden plank to put the foot on was both wide and long, and the shape was suitable to firmly stand without falling even on uneven ground.

Of course there were people that wore geta as footwear, but they were likes of noble men or priests, and geta was footwear for the privileged. The use of geta has become prevalent among the ordinary people much later during the Edo Period, after the beginning of the 17th century. Until then geta had been so expensive that common people could not afford them.

In the old days when the road was not paved, it became muddy on rainy days and feet got dirty with mud splash. So tall geta was found handy and gradually became popular as footwear on rainy days. With the later development of townspeople’s culture, fashion-conscious people had increased, and they started to wear geta as a fashionable item on sunny days as well.

With heightened awareness of fashion, geta in various designs became available. People of celebrity status of those days, such as kabuki actors or courtesans wore geta in quirky designs which became the trend, and even geta as tall as a foot high was manufactured.

However, this geta fad was centered in Edo (present day Tokyo), and it was much later in the latter half of the 19th century that the use of geta became popular across the country of Japan.

And today, there are many kinds of geta on the store shelves, from traditional styles to novel ones that incorporate the latest fashion.

 

Structure of Geta

japanese-shoes-geta003
https://www.flickr.com

Geta consists of “dai”, the wooden part you put your foot on, and “hana-o” the thong that goes through 3 holes punched on “dai”. There is also a part called “ha” that protrudes from “dai” and meets the ground. Geta has 1 or 2, or sometimes no “ha”, and depending on the number, shape or width of “ha”, names of geta also change. 

In contemporary geta, paulownia or cedar is primarily used. Trees that grow in cold climates are said to look more beautiful as they have more densely packed fine rings than those from warmer climates. For this reason, paulownia wood from Tohoku region is considered of high quality; a good reference when you choose geta.

The kind of material used for “hana-o” thongs could be cloth, vinyl, or leather. Basically thick hana-o is less likely to hurt your feet, but from a fashion perspective, thin hana-o tends to be preferred.

 

How to Choose the Size of Geta

japanese-shoes-geta004
https://www.flickr.com

Unlike shoes or sandals, the proper way to wear traditional Japanese footwear including geta is to leave your heel hanging out by 2~3 cm. In addition, it is supposed to be a fashionable way to wear geta with your little toe or other parts sticking out. Since “dai” being bigger than your foot is considered unfashionable, how about trying a size that is a little bit smaller when you decide to purchase geta?

 

How to Walk When You Are Wearing Geta

japanese-shoes-geta005
https://www.flickr.com

Once you put on geta, you walk with your gravity center tilted forward, unlike when you have your shoes on with the gravity center toward your heel. This is called Japanese walking style, and in this method, your upper body including arms is firmly fixed to the waist and you try to go forward only by motions below the waist. If you keep wearing geta for a long time in this walking style, only the front part of the “ha” wears down but rather than the back, and that’s the proper way for geta to wear down. You might get confused because you need to walk differently from when you are wearing shoes, but when you wear geta, let’s put your gravity center a little bit forward to look cool wearing the geta.

 

Types of Geta

There have been various types of geta produced, depending on the age and fashion. Out of those types, we would like to introduce several that are still in common use even today.

1. Koma Geta

駒下駄

japanese-shoes-koma-geta
https://www.flickr.com

Appeared at the end of the 17th century, it was widely used as common footwear for both genders. This geta was the most common type before the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

2. Ukon Geta

右近下駄

japanese-shoes--ukon-geta
https://www.flickr.com

This geta’s surface is curved and the part under the arch of the foot is hollowed out instead of having “ha”. Nowadays the bottom of geta is usually covered with sponge. 

3. Pokkuri Geta

ぽっくり下駄

japanese-shoes-pokkuri-geta
https://www.flickr.com

This footwear is for maiko and girls in general. It is either black colored, inverted trapezoid shape or plain wood and it is slightly taller. Sometimes there is a bell inside, and it rings when you walk.
Related Articles: Overview on the Differences Between a Kyoto Maiko and Geiko

4. Ippon-ba Geta

一本歯下駄

japanese-shoes-ipponba-geta
https://www.flickr.com

This geta is for trail walking, and it was used by mountaineering ascetics like monks or yamabushi who used to train themselves in the mountains. In old days some street performers and acrobats also wore them to show off their superb sense of balance. Nowadays there are some people who would use it for the purpose of training their bodies.

5. Children’s Geta

japanese-shoes-geta-for-children
https://www.flickr.com

Because they are for small children, many of them come in cute designs both in color and shape.

 

Geta is no longer worn as everyday footwear even in Japan.  However, now that its virtue is receiving renewed appreciation, how about trying to wear it once if you have an opportunity? The sound of wood you hear at every step you walk in geta would surely let you experience an indescribably refined sense of Japanese sentiment.

Related Articles:
Tabi: A Functional and Uniquely Japanese Sock
Obi, Kimono’s Best Partner, or Actually the Statement Item?

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Azuki

About the author

Favorite genres are various aspects of Japanese otaku culture. Having been away from Japan for some time, there are many scenes where Azuki realizes the differences between international culture and Japanese culture. Through her own experience and knowledge, she hopes to deliver useful information to the international community who are interested in Japan.

View all articles by Azuki
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