Clik clok, clik clok. You look up, expecting to see a pair of heels coming your way. What you see instead confuses you. What are those? How do people wear them?
Before you start feeling ashamed for your lack of knowledge, stop! We aren’t here to judge you. After all, Culturally’s vision is to bridge culture and art all over the world, helping every individual understand and experience culture for themselves. That includes you. Sugoi!
To start off, geta are traditional Japanese sandals often paired with the yukata for informal occasions. Unlike your typical sandals which your naked toes grab onto, geta are often worn with white tabi socks.
Made of wood (most commonly cedarwood), the geta comes in various shapes and sizes. Most geta have two teeth, but the tengu-geta consists of a single tooth (ha) in the middle of the sole. The wearer’s feet are held with a cloth strap called hanao. Men’s geta often have a black hanao while women’s are red.
Unlike the mass-produced shoes we know of today, geta production was relatively environmentally-friendly. The owner of Naito, one of the most famous footwear manufacturers, used to produce geta from leftover materials in his timber and textile businesses.
Back then in the Heian Period, geta prevented one’s yukata from getting dirty in the mud or snow as the high soles raised one’s feet 4-5cm off the ground. This was especially common among sushi chefs, making it easier for them to stay away from food scraps in the kitchen. According to The Kyoto Project, priests wore another type of geta with only one ha, the takaba, to scale mountains safely. Another group of people who wore geta were geishas in training, otherwise known as maiko.
This eventually evolved to become a fashion trend in the late 90s, with an unspoken competition between shoe designers to increase the heights of their slats. Atsuzoku, otherwise known as platform heels, became a hit amongst young girls and shoe manufacturers started churning out shoes with high soles. In fact, Noritaka Tatehana’s famous heel-less shoe collection is known to be inspired by the traditional geta.
Beautifully insane, we know. Find more of his amazing works here.
Today, geta are most popularly used by sumo wrestlers. Did you know that you can tell which rank a wrestler falls within based on his sandals? According to the Japan Times, only new recruits wear geta, while those who have proved themselves worthy wear seta, and eventually men in the highest rank of them all get to wear tabi socks.
Aside from Japanese wrestlers, most people don’t wear geta anymore. However, many in Japan still abide by the practice of removing their footwear at the door. This age-old tradition initially came about to avoid damaging the tatami flooring and to maintain cleanliness. The sandal-like design of geta made it easy for people to repeatedly put on and take off their shoes (imagine having to untie and tie your shoelaces every single time!)
Unless you’re someone with tiny feet, you would probably notice that people’s feet usually hang over the back of their geta. No, they didn’t get them in the wrong size. With one’s feet hanging slightly over the back, it places the “teeth” in the centre, helping one to balance. Enlightening.
Intrigued by Japanese culture after reading this article? There’s more to discover - here’s a Japanese Tea Experience located right here in sunny Singapore that will take you by the hand and show you the even greater wonders of Japan.
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At Culturally, we offer customised hands-on cultural experiences for you and your loved ones to enjoy and have fun whilst learning about other cultures!