When you encounter a woman wearing kimono, the first thing your eyes tend to go to are her Kimono and obi (belt), but try to pay attention to the socks she is wearing as well. Those eye-catching white socks made of good quality cloth are called Tabi.
Zori and Geta are the traditional Japanese footwear whose thong is sandwiched between the index finger and thumb of the feet, with a look much like beach sandals. Likewise, Tabi is also made with a separation between the big toe and other toes. Nowadays, Tabi are commonly made of cotton; however, they were originally made of leather, and people used to wear them by tying strings to their ankles. It seems these were worn among the samurai when they practiced falconry and during battles, since they are so durable and protective.
What made the cotton-made Tabi become popular was the great fire that occurred in Edo in 1657. It is said that after this event, prices increased due to leather shortages, and cotton-made Tabi began to spread rapidly. At the same time, the style of Tabi changed from tying strings to ankles to having a row of buttons instead.
When Tabi made of cotton came to assert its domination of the national market, Gyoda city of Saitama prefecture became the main producing area for cotton Tabi. Because Gyoda city is originally known famous for its cotton production and the Nakasendo (one of the five routes of the Edo period) was close by, it is thought that Tabi were mainly sought out in this area for travel and work use. “Tabi Kura” storage areas were even built in order to stock up on Tabi until the year 1957, and approximately seventy of these storages are preserved in the city center today as tourist attractions.
Our toes are confined all day long in tight shoes, causing improper blood circulation and feet odor. But recently, Tabi inspired socks that separate the thumb toe from other toes and other models that separate all toes have become popular. They may feel a little tight at first, but once you get used to them, they should give you an enhanced level of comfort. By all means, why not try (literally) putting yourself in the shoes of ancient warriors and princesses by trying out some Tabi and going out for a walk on the street? Oh, by the way, Tabi are also very practical and comfortable as home shoes, if you’re more of an indoors person.
Saitama traditional craft hall
Michinoeki Ogawacho 220 Ogawa-cho Hiki-gun Saitama-ken
Tabi to Kurashi no Hakubutukan
1-2 Gyoda Gyoda-shi Saitama-ken