December 15, 2016

by Mayumi Otsuka, Mai Takezawa and Kanako Wakamatsu

Maybe you know “Kimono”, which is a traditional style of Japanese clothing, but how about “Geta”?  Geta are a kind of shoe or sandal, and Japanese people wear them when they wear Kimono, like women wear high heels when they wear dresses.  Here, we are going to introduce Geta to you in three ways:

  • What are Geta?
  • History of Geta
  • Different types of Geta

In addition, we are also going to give you some surprising facts about this interesting Japanese clothes item.



What are Geta?

As we mentioned before, Geta are a kind of old Japanese style shoe and people wear them with Kimono or Yukata, in general.



Geta are usually made of wood, with the price changing by the kind of wood used. If Geta are made of “Kiri”, for example, then they would be a high price indeed. There are some different styles of geta, but in general, they have three main components to them; “Dai”, “Ha”, and “Hanao”.  Dai is the base board that people put their feet on, and Ha are the pieces of wood that support the Dai from below. Ha means teeth in Japanese, and the name comes from the side view of a Geta.  Geta usually have 2 “Ha”. The Hanao is made of cloth and it is placed on the Dai. When people wear Geta, the Hanao passes between the big toe and the second toe, a little like a beach sandal. Geta consist of these 3 parts, and this type of Geta is the latest type. Then, how about the old style?

History of Geta

In olden times, Geta were made and used as work shoes in Japan. In the Yayoi period (about BC 300 ~ BC 300) people in Japan started using “Ta-Geta” (“Ta” means “rice field” in Japanese). At that time, rice farming was started, and people could not move easily in the rice fields because the ground was muddy and soft. Therefore, they made Ta-Geta to make it easier to work in rice fields. However, Ta-Geta did not have Ha and their Hanao were made of straw. Furthermore, another style, “Nezura-Geta” (“Nezura” is a kind of fish in Japan), were used on the beach or in the shallows. Nezura-Geta had needles attached to their soles, like spiked shoes, and people wore them to catch fish.

During the Heian period, (BC 794 ~ BC 1185), one type of Geta, “Takaba”, which had only one Ha, were worn by priests. They usually wore them when they climbed up and down a mountain. It sounds very difficult to climb up and down a mountain wearing Takaba, but apparently they were quite suitable for slippery mountain roads. However, towards the end of this era, nearly all the common people wore “Zouri” (that were made only of straw and very simple) instead of Geta, and Geta became a rare and expensive thing for the average person.   



It wasn’t until the Edo era (BC 1603 ~ BC 1868) that people started to wear Geta again, and this was because people started to become more interested in fashion.  They wore Geta not only as work shoes, but also as a fashion item. Also, up to then, Geta had usually only been worn on rainy days, however, from the middle of the Edo period, people began to wear them on sunny days, too. Thereafter, the skill of making Geta improved and the shops selling them began to appear, and in greater numbers. Because of this, more than 200 kinds of Geta were made at that time, and Geta became more and more famous among common people. So, what types are there around now?

Different types of Geta

Actually, there are many kinds of Geta still worn now, and a good example is “Ippon-Geta”. They have only one Ha, supporting piece, and are very good for your body balance. If you wear them, it can make your upper body stronger. It is also said that wearing Ippon-Geta can heal back pain or gonalgia, too. Another type is called “Tengu-Geta” because it has been said this type of Geta was worn by Tengu, a sort of Japanese monster, and also god, that has a long nose and red face. This simple variety is very similar to the Ta-Geta we introduced earlier.



Finally, we have “Okobo”. Okobo are often worn by Maiko. We talked about Maiko in a previous article:

The height of an Okobo is about 10cm, and are worn mostly by women. In the “Shichi-Go-San”, a festival in Japan to celebrate the healthy growth of children, girls often wear them. They also go by some other names, including Pokkuri, Koppori or Bokkuri, but this is different from place to place.




Geta is a traditional Japanese shoe, and, in olden times people used them as work shoes. Now, however, they are worn still as a fashion item, too. Recently, in Kyoto, the number of rental Kimono shops is increasing because of the number of foreign visitors interested in this style. If you go to one of these shops, you can try wearing Kimono and Geta and go sightseeing with them on. Also, most of the shops have hairstylists, so if you are women, you can try a traditional hairstyle. It costs around 3,000 yen 〜 6,000 yen, so we recommend you to try it. It may be difficult to walk wearing Geta for the first time, but it really is a uniquely Japanese traditional experience. You will surely enjoy Kyoto even more if you try out the old Japanese clothes style, Kimono and Geta!

The Shinsengumi

By Junya Kitagawa and Miki Suzuki

In 1603, the Edo Period began in Japan with Ieyasu Tokugawa, who made a system called the Tokugawa government, which had a strong centralization of power.  At that time, relationships with foreign countries were thought to be dangerous.  So the government carried out a policy, which was later called National Isolation. It prevented foreigners from coming to Japan.

However, in Japan, there were a lot of rebellions throughout Japan because of this isolation policy.  Around the same time in 1852, Matthew Calbraith Perry, a Commodore of the U.S. Navy, came to Japan.  Since then, many foreigners voyaged to Japan and what is worse, many citizens from different parts of Japan made up groups and tried to defeat the Tokugawa government.

In that period, Kyoto still had been the center of politics, and there were a lot of people belonging to anti-government groups.  So this area was no safe, and only government offices which had maintained the order of Kyoto as in the past could not suppress the riot any more.  Then at that time, a special group was formed.  It was called Shinsengumi (新撰組).  Shinsengumi was a kind of special police force, consisting of only 24 samurai at first.  But, after their successes in the Ikedaya Incident and also in the Kinmon Incident, the Shinsengumi was given a letter of thanks and lots monetary support by Tokugawa government.  From that point on, they become very famous all over Japan.  In the end, many others took part in the Shinsengumi, becoming a large group consisting of more than 200 samurai.

the flag of the Shinsengumi

Shinsengumi is written as 新撰組 in Japanese characters. 新 means ‘new’, 撰 means ‘election’ and 組 means ‘group’.  So 新撰組 means “the people who are newly elected”.  The group consisted of 10 units, and its leader was Isamu Kondou, who is very famous in Japan now.  He was very good at fencing and a member of Shieikan(試衛館), which is a famous training gym for fencing.  On the Shinsengumi flag is painted the following character: 誠.  It looks almost like the character 試 in Shieikan (試衛館), doesn’t it?  Yes, that is right Kondou was a student of Shieikan and also its leader.  When he became the leader of Shinsengumi, he had to choose one character for the flag.  At that time, he wanted to paint it as 試 from 試衛館.  However he thought it was too simple.  So, he painted as 誠 instead, which looks like 試, in the flag.  This was an interesting happening indeed.

Ikedaya Inn


The Ikedaya Incident was an armed encounter that took place in Kyoto, in 1864 at the Ikedaya Inn on Sanjo Street.  When the Tyoshu clan and the Tosa clan were meeting there, they were attacked by Shinsengumi.  Both clans were anti-government so they intervened in the hotel and killed people both of the clans.  Before the accident, both of the clans had decided to set fire to the Imperial Palace.  However, the Shinsengumi foiled their plot.  The Shinsengumi did a great job in stopping them from their destructive plans.

The Kinmon Incident happened in 1864, right after the incident in the Ikedaya Inn.  It also involved the Tyoshu clan.  The Shinsengumgumi also did a great job in this incident.  Having fought with Tyoshu clan, Shinsengumi defeated them and saved Kyoto.

The Boshin War, in 1868 was one of the most important civil wars in Japanese history.  In this war, the new government group and the old government group fought each other.  Of course, the Shisengumi was on the side of the old government group.  On the other hand, the new government group included the Tyoshu clan and the Satsuma clam, both of whoom had been defeated by the Shinsengumi previously.  However, this time the two clans were more powerful than before.  The Shinsengumi did their best to defeat them again, but in 1868, their sub-leader, Toshizo Hizikata, was killed.  Since then, the power of the Shinsengumi began to decline.  What was worse, the old government group lost the civil war.  The Shinsengui had been working as a police force in Kyoto since 1863, but only 5 years later, they began to disband.

Nevertheless, the Shinsengumi is still famous and popular in Japan, and a lot of Japanese know and love them.  This is because the group appears in many animes and comics in Japan, for example, Hakuouki, Rurouni-Kenshin and Gintama.  If you have a chance, please read them.


For those who come to Kyoto and want to learn more about Shisengumi, you can actually visit the places written about above.

Ikedaya: From Kyoto Station, take Kyoto City Bus No.17 to Kawaramachi Sanjo.  From there it is a 3-minute walk.

Maegawa residence: From Kyoto Station, take Kyoto City Bus No.28, to Mibuderamichi.  From there it is a 2-minute walk.

Yagi residence:  This is near the Maegawa residence; only a one-minute walk.

If you visit these places, you can read about the histories of the Shinsengumi.

Those not fortunate enough to come to Kyoto, shouldn’t worry. They can learn about the Shisengumi through DVDs, movies or comics. Some of the most famous anime and comics about the Shisengumi are Rurouni-Kenshin and Hakuouki. For example, the DVD boxes of Hakuouki are sold on the Internet. They cost about $65 to buy.

As for the comics, there are a lot of comic cafes in the world, so please visit them and read the comics of Rurouni-Kenshin and Hakuouki.


by Yuko Okada


Kennin-ji, the headquarters of the Kennin-ji branch of Rinzai Zen, was founded in 1202 by the priest Eisai (1141-1215). Eisai is well known for introducing the Zen sect and the tradition of tea drinking into Japan from China.Most existent buildings in Kennin-ji were built after the Edo period (1600-1867). That is because of the Ônin War, in which many buildings in Kyoto were lost. But Messenger’s Gate, built in the Kamakura period (1192-1333), was left after the battles, permanently scarred by stray arrows, and is a rare example within the city. In addition, the hôjô was built in the Muromachi period (1392-1573). Both structures are Important Cultural Properties.Because Kennin-ji is a head temple, there is a large meditation hall for monks, who must train in zazen there for several years to become priests.


The hôjô (superior’s quarters) is the main hall of Kennin-ji, where most of the temple’s regular ceremonies are performed. Here we can see paintings on the sliding doors by artist Hashimoto Kansetsu. “The Cycle of Death and Rebirth” is one of his well-known paintings, and consists of 32 surfaces. It tells us the doctrine of Buddhism and philosophy of Zen:

The bird is sleeping on a small floating log. This bird can be compared to pursuing a little desire without noticing, or as the proverb says, who knows what tomorrow will bring? The composition of the wind and rain means checkered life, and that when overcoming difficulties, you’ll attain a state like clear moonlight.In addition, we can see a painting by Sôtatsu Tawaraya (dates unknown). It is called “The Wind and Thunder Gods”. The gods seem stern, but somehow humorous. (Usually two replicas are displayed.)

To the south of the hôjô, there is a dry garden, which is in the rock and white gravel style often found in Zen temples. The dry garden of Kennin-ji is named “Daiô-en”, which means grand garden. It is said that the pattern of white gravel symbolizes a field of clouds. But the priest says that he would like you to see it however you wish. What can you imagine?

Dharma Hall

The dharma hall is where the priest preaches about doctrines. “Nenge-dô” is the name for the dharma hall of Kennin-ji, which means “pick a flower”, and derives from the story, “Nenge-Mishô”: One day, when Buddha preached, he picked up a flower and showed it to everyone. Anyone could make it out, but only the priest Kayô (one of Buddha’s disciples) smiled. Then the Buddha’s true doctrine had come down to him! This story shows the importance of communicating heart to heart.
On the ceiling of this hall, we can see “Twin Dragons”, painted in 2002 by the contemporary artist Koizumi Junsaku to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the temple’s founding. Usually, dragon pictures on the ceilings of dharma halls are painted in a circle. But “Twin Dragons” covers the whole ceiling, and the total area of this picture is about 175 square meters. The reason is that the abbot of Kennin-ji requested Mr. Koizumi to make dragons rampage through the ceiling.


Via JR, Kintetsu Railway
Take city bus 206 from the D2 bus stop in Kyoto Station. Get off at the “Higashiyama-Yasui” bus stop, and walk west along Yasui Street (about 7 min.).
Via Keihan Railway
Get off at Shijo Station. Walk east along Shijo Street, and turn to your right at Hanami-Koji Street (about 8 min.).
Via Hankyu Railway
Get off at Kawaramachi Station. Walk east over the bridge to Hanami-Koji Street and turn right (about 10 min.).


Open 10:00a.m.- 4:00p.m.
Fees Adults: 500 yen
Handicapped/Under elementary school student: free