April 16, 2006
by Chiaki Imanaka
Jika-tabi is a typical kind of traditional Japanese footwear that is both original and exceptionally functional. In Japan, construction workers, farmers and gardeners, rickshaw-pullers, and other workmen have worn jika-tabi for a very long time. Being made of heavy, tougher material, and often having rubber soles, jika-tabi more closely resemble boots, and function as outer footwear rather than as socks. Like other tabi, jika-tabi are toe-divided so they can be worn with slip-on thonged under-footwear.
Though slowly being replaced by steel-toed rigid-sole construction shoes in some industries, many workers prefer them for the softness of their soles. This gives the wearer tactile contact with the ground and also allows them to use their feet in a more agile way than rigid-soled shoes might do. For instance, workers who traverse girders on construction sites like to know what is under their feet, and craft practitioners such as carpenters and gardeners are able to use their feet as if they were an extra pair of hands; to hold objects in place, for example.
Jika-tabi are available in three main types: hand sewn, split-toe and round-toe. Hand sewn jika-tabi are the type whereby the uppers and soles have been combined by hand sewing. The wearer of these is able to walk as if barefoot, because the soles are thin, soft and flexible. Therefore, they suit workers who work in high and dangerous places, because they can find greater balance.
Split-toe Jika-tabi have a more up-to-date styling and go well with modern clothes. These are comfortable to wear because of their width and split-toe, and therefore are suitable for farm work and the mining industry.
The third variety, round-toe jika-tabi, can be worn as normal sneakers with casual clothes, and are good for those with a narrow width to their feet. One problem with regular style split-toe jika-tabi was that when worn on swampy or soft ground, mud and grass would often choke up the area between the toes. In order to avoid this problem, round-toe jika-tabi were developed.
These days, there are few factories producing jika-tabi in Japan, but one of the best is called Sou-sou. Sou-sou’s jika-tabi are made from various types of cloth and come in a range of designs.
Jika-tabi have a unique feature, which is metallic hooks and eyes, so when you wear jika-tabi you hook the clasps onto the eyes. Some jika-tabi also have a design printed inside the shoe, so it’s possible to wear them in such a as way to show off the design. This is very cool! Sou-sou also sell all kinds of socks which go with jika-tabi.
Sou-sou operates other stores, in addition to their tabi store, and each one handles Japanese traditional items, and all are unique. Therefore, I strongly recommend you visit this store if you are interested in this most traditional style of Japanese footwear. Please access the following website for full information on the company.
Sou-sou home page.