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Geta: Walking the Japanese Way

The Japanese are known for having intricate rituals and wonderfully embedded traditions, things that still affect their modern way of living until today. One of these subtle traits that make the Japanese unique is the way they walk. This characteristic, although subtle in everyday cases, is definitely distinguishable, and remains easily correlated to Japan and its history.

All-Purpose Shoes

The historical Japanese are well known for a peculiar way of walking -- not heel-to-toe as with bare feet or sneakers, but instead a shuffling motion that slides along the ground. Combined with long, flowing kimonos, this gait gives the impression of floating along the ground. Still, it is a very unorthodox way to walk, so why did the Japanese adopt it? The answer is their shoes.

Geta are wooden Japanese sandals propped up on two tall prongs called teeth. They have soft cloth passing from the side of the shoe through the gap between the first and second toes, like a flip-flop. They are usually carved from a single large block of paulownia or another soft wood, though the teeth may be tipped in hard wood or metal to avoid damage. Because they are raised off the ground by their teeth, they keep kimono hemlines above the rain, snow, and dust of the streets, and combined with insulating tabi socks, they can be worn in any weather. Because they are made of an inflexible material, unlike western shoes, they don't bend when their wearers walk, and so the usual rolling gait can't be applied to them. Instead, the best way to walk with them is to keep the foot flat and shuffle forward.

Geta are usually worn with tabi, which are split-toed socks that prevents the feet from dirtying the shoes' cloth thongs. Women sometimes wear tsumakawa, which are strips of cloth wrapped around the feet to keep them clean through bad weather.

Varieties of Geta

The typical geta sandal has two short teeth, one to two inches high. Geta with taller teeth were common for people such as butchers and seafood merchants working the docks, where the sandals would hold them above the debris and refuse on the ground.

Three-toothed geta were popular with oiran, high-class Japanese courtesans. These distinguished them from geisha, who only provided platonic entertainment, and common prostitutes.

Geta with a single tooth, called "tengu" geta after the Japanese mythological monster, are worn only for showmanship and demonstrations of dexterity. Like standing on stilts or ballet shoe tips, it is unwieldly and difficult to balance on tengu geta. Acrobats wear them for some of their acts, and they appear during parades and other festive displays, but otherwise they are not used.

Okobo, or geta carved as a large block instead of having a tooth, are heavier than normal geta. They were unique to geisha, who wore them especially as young maiko -- apprentices to geisha. They became symbols of the profession even after the heyday of geisha entertainers faded.

These traditional shoes are still loved by many to this day as symbols of elegance and formality. They keep your feet clean and comfortable even through bad weather, all while lending a classy and traditionally Eastern look to your outfit. We have a collection of geta for you to try!