Step into Tradition: Exploring the Fascinating World of Traditional Japanese Shoes

Traditional  Japanese Shoes

Traditional Japanese Shoes (Source: Google)

Discover the elegance and cultural significance of traditional Japanese shoes. From the iconic geta and zori to the lesser-known tabi, delve into the rich history and unique craftsmanship behind these footwear treasures. Immerse yourself in the outstanding design, materials, and fashions that have been an essential component of Japanese culture for centuries. 


Welcome to the enchanting world of traditional Japanese shoes! These shoes, steeped in history, culture, and workmanship, provide a look into the rich tapestry of Japanese heritage. From the iconic wooden geta to the delicate tabi socks, each style tells a unique story and serves a specific purpose. 

Traditional Japanese shoes are not only pragmatic, but they also come packed with meaning and craftsmanship, making them an important aspect of Japanese fashion and rituals. In this exploration, we will dive into the fascinating origins, designs, and cultural significance of these remarkable footwear treasures. So, slip off your modern shoes and embark on a journey through time as we step into the captivating realm of traditional Japanese footwear.

Origin and History of Traditional Japanese Footwear

The origin of traditional Japanese shoes can be traced back to ancient times, with their development closely intertwined with the country’s rich cultural heritage. These remarkable footwear pieces have evolved over centuries, adapting to the needs of the people while reflecting the aesthetic sensibilities and customs of the era.

Japanese Traditional Shoes (Source: Google)

The evolution of traditional Japanese shoes not only reflects changes in fashion but also embodies cultural values and practical considerations. The use of natural materials like wood, straw, and fabric aligns with Japan’s reverence for nature and sustainability.

Moreover, the symbolism attached to certain shoe styles, such as the social status associated with wearing geta or the religious significance of tabi socks, further demonstrates the deep-rooted connection between traditional Japanese shoes and the society they originated from.

Today, traditional Japanese shoes continue to be cherished and celebrated. While modern footwear has become prevalent in everyday life, these traditional styles persist in various contexts, including traditional ceremonies, festivals, theater performances, and even as fashion statements. The enduring appeal of traditional Japanese shoes lies in their ability to blend timeless design with cultural heritage, presenting an intriguing and beautiful window into Japan’s captivating past.

Types of Japanese Traditional Shoes

1. Zori – Japanese Havaianas

Zori, also known as Japanese sandals, are the traditional footwear that originated in Japan. They are a type of sandal with a flat sole and a thong strap that passes between the big toe and the second toe, similar to flip-flops.

Historically, zori were made with natural materials such as straw, wood, or rice straw for the sole, and fabric or leather for the thong strap. However, modern zori can be found in various materials, including rubber, vinyl, and synthetic fibers.

Japan Traditional Footwear – Zori (Source: Google)

Zori were initially worn by commoners during the Edo period (1603-1868) but eventually gained popularity among all social classes. Nowadays, they are primarily used as casual footwear or for special occasions like festivals, tea ceremonies, or traditional weddings.

The design of zori can vary greatly, ranging from simple and minimalist styles to more elaborate and decorative ones. Some zori feature intricate patterns, vibrant colors, and even embroidered designs, making them not only functional but also fashionable.

Zori are known for their comfort and breathability, making them suitable for warm weather. They are lightweight and easy to slip on and off, providing convenience for everyday wear.

Zori (Source: Google)

In recent years, zori have gained international recognition and are enjoyed by people around the world as a unique and stylish footwear option. Whether you’re embracing Japanese culture or simply looking for a comfortable and fashionable sandal, zori can be a great choice.

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2. Geta – Traditional wooden sandals

Geta is a traditional form of Japanese footwear that consists of wooden sandals elevated on two or three raised platforms called teeth, also known as “ha.” These teeth are designed to give the wearer added height and protect their feet from the ground. Geta are typically made with a flat wooden base called “dai” and have a fabric thong called “hanao” that goes between the toes to hold the sandal in place.

Geta (Source: Google)

The history of geta dates back several centuries, and they were originally worn by both men and women. They became particularly popular during the Edo period (1603-1868) and were commonly worn with traditional Japanese clothing such as kimono. Geta were practical for walking on uneven surfaces and helped elevate the wearer’s feet above the dirt and mud found on the streets.

The design of geta can vary depending on the region and purpose. There are different styles of geta, such as tengu-geta, which have extremely tall teeth and were associated with mythical creatures called “tengu.” The height of the teeth can range from a few centimeters to more than 20 centimeters.

In addition to providing elevation, geta also offers other benefits. The wooden construction helps absorb moisture and sweat, keeping the feet dry and preventing odors. The shape of the teeth allows for improved stability and balance while walking. However, wearing geta requires some practice and getting used to, as the elevated shoes can initially feel unstable.

Geta (Source: Google)

Today, geta are less commonly worn in everyday life but are still seen during traditional festivals, ceremonies, and cultural events. They are also considered a fashion accessory and sometimes used as part of traditional Japanese costumes for theater performances or special occasions.

3. Setta – Leather-soled sandal

Setta are traditional Japanese sandals that have been worn for centuries. They are characterized by their flat sole and V-shaped thong that separates the big toe from the rest of the toes. Setta are typically made from natural materials such as straw, leather, or cloth.

Setta (Source: Google)

Historically, setta were mainly worn by people in lower social classes, while the upper classes preferred more extravagant footwear. However, they have gained popularity among individuals from many walks of life throughout time and are today regarded as a traditional and distinct feature of Japanese culture.

The construction of setta varies depending on the material used. Straw setta, also called waraji, are created by braiding dried rice straw to form the sole and attaching a cloth or leather strap. Leather setta are made by crafting a leather sole and attaching a fabric strap. Cloth setta feature a fabric-covered sole and strap, usually made from colorful kimono fabric or other decorative textiles.

Setta are lightweight and flexible, making them comfortable for everyday wear, especially during hot and humid summers in Japan. They are easy to slip on and off, which is convenient in a culture where it’s customary to remove shoes before entering homes and certain establishments.

Setta (Source: Google)

Traditionally, setta were worn with traditional Japanese clothing such as kimono or yukata. However, today they are often paired with casual attire, particularly during summer festivals (matsuri) or when visiting traditional Japanese sites.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in setta, and modern variations can be found blending traditional designs with contemporary aesthetics. Some designers have even incorporated Western elements into their designs, creating fusion styles.

4. Okobo – Japanese Clogs with High Heels

Okobo is a type of traditional Japanese footwear that originated in the Heian period (794-1185) and is still worn today on special occasions and during traditional festivals. It is characterized by its elevated wooden platform sole, which can vary in height from a few centimeters to more than 10 centimeters.

Okobo (Source: Google)

Okobo typically have a one-piece construction with a flat wooden base that forms the sole and a series of straps or cords that hold the foot in place. The base is usually made from lightweight paulownia wood or other types of lightweight wood, making them comfortable to wear despite their height.

The exaggerated platform sole of the Okobo serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. It helps to elevate the wearer’s feet above the ground, protecting them from dirt, mud, and dampness. Additionally, the height adds an elegant and graceful appearance to the wearer.

Okobo are primarily worn for traditional ceremonies, festivals, and performances, such as traditional dances like the Bon-Odori or tea ceremonies. They are often paired with kimono or yukata, which are traditional Japanese garments.

There are different styles and variations of Okobo across various regions in Japan. Some Okobo feature intricate and decorative designs carved into the wooden base, while others may be simpler in design. The straps or cords used to secure the foot can also vary in color and material.

Okobo (Source: Google)

Okobo holds cultural and symbolic significance in Japanese traditions. They are associated with elegance, gracefulness, and the preservation of traditional customs. Their presence adds a distinct aesthetic charm to cultural events and festivities.

5. Surippa – Japanese slippers

Surippa, also known as “suripu” or “slippers,” refers to a type of footwear commonly worn in Japan. These traditional Japanese slippers are designed for indoor use and are typically made from soft and comfortable materials such as cloth or woven straw. Surippa comes in various styles, colors, and patterns, catering to both men and women.

Surippa (Source: Google)

Historically, surippa has been an integral part of Japanese culture for centuries. They are often associated with the concept of removing one’s outdoor shoes before entering a home or certain establishments, a custom known as “genkan.” This practice helps maintain cleanliness and hygiene indoors and is deeply rooted in Japanese etiquette.

Traditional Japanese surippa feature a simple, slip-on design without any fasteners such as straps or buckles. They are open at the back, allowing easy entry and removal. The soles are usually flat and flexible, providing a comfortable walking experience on tatami mats, wooden floors, or other smooth surfaces.

Surippa are not limited to private residences but are also found in various public places, such as traditional ryokan inns, temples, and hot springs. Additionally, they are frequently worn in communal areas like school gymnasiums, where outdoor shoes are prohibited to maintain cleanliness.

Surippa (Source: Google)

In recent years, the popularity of surippa has extended beyond Japan, with many people around the world adopting them for comfort and style in their homes. Whether you’re looking for a touch of Japanese culture or simply seeking cozy and convenient footwear, surippa are an excellent choice.

6. Jika-tabi – Socks change into shoes

Jika-tabi, also known as tabi boots or just tabi, is a unique style of footwear originating from Japan. They are characterized by their split-toe design, which separates the big toe from the rest of the toes, similar to traditional Japanese socks called tabi.

The term “jika-tabi” can be translated to mean “ground (jika) and foot (tabi),” indicating their purpose: to provide protection and grip on various terrains. These shoes were created in the early twentieth century as tough work boots for employees, particularly those working in construction, agriculture, and manual crafts.


Jika-tabi (Source: Google)

Jika-tabi features a flexible yet durable sole made from rubber or synthetic materials, providing excellent traction and preventing slips. The top portion of the shoe is often constructed of canvas or a heavy-duty fabric that allows for ventilation and flexibility. Some modern variations may use leather or other materials for added durability.

One distinctive feature of jika-tabi is their closure system. Instead of laces or Velcro straps, they traditionally have metal clasps or fasteners along the sides, allowing wearers to adjust the fit and secure the boots tightly around their feet and ankles. This design helps maintain stability and prevents the shoes from slipping off during physical activities.

Jika-tabi have not only remained popular among workers and craftsmen but have also gained popularity in fashion and cultural circles. They are often seen as a symbol of traditional Japanese craftsmanship and are commonly worn during festivals, martial arts training, and certain performing arts like Kabuki and Noh theater.

Jika-tabi (Source: Google)

Furthermore, jika-tabi have influenced contemporary fashion trends, with various designers incorporating their unique aesthetics into modern footwear designs. Today, you can find both traditional and fashionable versions of jika-tabi, catering to different preferences and needs.

7. Uwabaki – Traditional indoor slippers

Uwabaki is a type of traditional Japanese footwear that is specifically designed to be worn indoors. The term “uwabaki” translates to “indoor shoes” in English. These shoes are commonly worn in various settings, such as schools, hospitals, and traditional Japanese establishments, where it is customary to remove outdoor footwear.

Uwabaki (Source: Google)

Uwabaki are typically made from lightweight and breathable materials such as cloth or soft synthetic fabrics. They are designed to provide comfort and convenience while protecting the feet and keeping indoor spaces clean. Uwabaki often feature a slip-on design without laces, making them easy to put on and take off.

The soles of uwabaki are usually made of rubber or non-slip materials to provide traction and prevent slipping on smooth indoor surfaces. Some variations may have additional padding or cushioning for extra comfort during extended wear.

One distinctive feature of uwabaki is their closed-back design. Unlike open-back slippers or sandals, uwabaki fully enclose the foot for better support and warmth. This design helps to keep the shoe securely in place while walking or moving around.

Uwabaki (Source: Google)

These indoor shoes play an essential role in maintaining cleanliness and hygiene in Japanese culture. By wearing uwabaki indoors, individuals can prevent dirt, dust, and germs from being tracked inside from outdoor shoes. This practice helps to create a more sanitary and comfortable environment, especially in communal spaces.

8. Waraji – Common people’s options

Waraji is a traditional type of Japanese footwear that dates back centuries. These sandals are made from woven straw or hemp rope and are known for their simplicity and practicality.


Waraji (Source: Internet)

The construction of waraji involves braiding the straw or hemp rope into a pattern that forms the sole of the sandal. The rope is then wrapped around the foot to keep it secure. The design allows for flexibility and breathability, making them suitable for various activities and climates.

Originally, waraji were worn by the common people in Japan, including farmers, samurai, and monks. They were considered inexpensive and readily available footwear options. Waraji were particularly popular during the Edo period (1603-1868).

Waraji were traditionally worn with tabi socks, a type of split-toe sock that separates the big toe from the other toes. Tabi socks are still worn with waraji today to provide additional comfort and protection.

Waraji (Source: Internet)

While waraji have largely been replaced by modern footwear in everyday use, they continue to hold cultural significance in Japan. They are often seen in traditional festivals, theatrical performances such as Noh and Kabuki, and historical reenactments. Waraji also serves as a symbol of resilience and humility.

Different Categories of Japanese Shoes

Many more were created in contemporary Japan or are variants on the classic geta and zori. I’ll attempt to include some additional variants of these shoes below:

  • Hiyori geta/ Masa geta: Traditional two-toothed wooden sandals worn in the sun.
  • Taka-ashida geta: Rain and adverse weather sandals constructed of wood.
  • Kigutsu: Wooden boots, which can also refer to asagutsu, geta, and other wooden shoes of foreign origin.
  • Shigai: Silk thread shoes worn by children’s dancing costumes and young shrine maidens participating in Shinto events.
  • Yamageta: Mountain geta, raw geta, often made of Japanese cedar.


1. What is the difference between tabi and zori?

Tabi and zori are both types of traditional Japanese footwear, but they differ in their design and usage. Tabi are split-toe socks with a rubber sole and are worn indoors or with other types of footwear, while zori are flat sandals with a thong strap and are worn as standalone footwear in casual settings.

2. What materials are commonly used to make traditional Japanese shoes?

Depending on the kind of shoe, traditional Japanese shoes can be constructed from a number of materials. Some materials used the most are wood, rice straw, cloth, and leather.

3. Why do Japanese people wear flip-flops with socks?

Wearing slippers with socks is a common practice in Japanese culture for several reasons. Wearing socks with slippers provides additional comfort. Japan values cleanliness and hygiene, and wearing socks with slippers helps keep the slippers clean. 

When visiting other people’s homes, traditional Japanese etiquette often dictates that guests should wear slippers provided by the host. Wearing socks with these slippers shows respect for the host’s property by keeping the slippers clean and preventing direct contact between bare feet and the borrowed footwear.

4. How do traditional Japanese shoes differ from Western-style footwear?

Traditional Japanese shoes have a distinctively elevated wooden base. And, while Western-style footwear typically uses leather or synthetic materials for the upper part, traditional Japanese shoes often have an upper made of cloth, silk, or woven straw. 

Furthermore, traditional Japanese shoes carry cultural significance and are often associated with traditional ceremonies and customs. In contrast, Western-style footwear is not specifically tied to any particular culture or ceremony.

5. Are there any famous historical figures associated with traditional Japanese shoes?

While there aren’t any specific historical figures directly associated with traditional Japanese shoes themselves, there have been notable figures in Japanese history who are often depicted wearing traditional footwear as part of their attire. Samurai have traditionally worn geta or waraji, whereas geisha have historically worn zori and kabuki performers have worn katageta.

6. What shoes should I wear with yukata?

When wearing a traditional Japanese garment like a yukata, there are specific types of shoes that are traditionally paired with it. The two main options for footwear with a yukata are geta and zori.

7. Is it possible to wear zori outside?

Traditionally, zori were primarily intended for indoor or formal occasions. However, modern variations of zori, such as synthetic materials or rubber soles, have made them more suitable for outdoor use compared to their traditional counterparts. 

8. Can zori be worn with a yukata?

Yes, you can wear zori with a yukata. In fact, zori are one of the traditional footwear options that are commonly paired with a yukata for formal or semi-formal occasions. Zori complements the elegant and refined aesthetic of the yukata ensemble.


In conclusion, traditional Japanese shoes hold a significant place in Japanese culture, reflecting the country’s rich history and unique aesthetic. Geta and zori, with their distinct designs and materials, offer a glimpse into Japan’s traditional footwear traditions. These shoes have been associated with historical figures such as samurai and geisha, further adding to their cultural significance. 

However, as fashion evolves, Western-style footwear has also become prevalent in Japan. Nonetheless, traditional Japanese shoes continue to be cherished symbols of tradition, elegance, and the enduring spirit of Japanese heritage.

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About Hayami Mori

Hayami Mori is an awesome travel blogger & photographer. She was born and raised in Tokyo and have been here for nearly 25 years. She loves traveling and always wants to introduce her beautiful Japan to travelers from all over the world. Therefore, her blog is a great source of information for people looking for what to do in Japan as well as provides some tips to make their trips unforgettable.

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