Shoe (or perhaps more specifically slipper) manufacturers in Japan must do a roaring trade. As ever with this oh so ordered country, there is a shoe etiquette that must be observed. First thing to remember is that you must always remove all shoes on entry to any house, guest house, ryokan etc. and of course any temple or shrine. But when doing this, you also have to be pretty careful where exactly you remove your shoes to make sure that no outside footwear touches the wooden boards near the entry which are part of inside and of course to ensure that your bare feet don’t touch the outside ground. If you get this wrong, the normally restrained and quiet Japanese suddenly break out in sharp anguished cries of pain. But sometimes it is in fact easier said than done especially when you are half way through the manoeuvre.
Then there might be special slippers you must wear inside, sometimes in different sizes but generally all a bit too small for any larger footed westerner. These can be pretty hard to walk in as they slip off and can be particularly lethal when going up and downstairs. But if slippers are provided, good manners says you should persevere nonetheless.
But don’t worry, you’re not normally in them for long as you have to take off all footwear on entry to your bedroom or the inner part of a temple. Also if you are heading to the bathroom at any point, off come the slippers and on go a pair of yet another pair of shoes – this time, special plastic/rubber bathroom slippers.
When we were in Kinosaki and dressed in our yukatas (light cotton kimonos), we had to wear special outside clog like sandals called getas when strolling around the town. Although there were a few variations in their designs, they were uniformly impossible to walk in; essentially totally impracticable! And it wasn’t just us that seemed to be struggling: not every Japanese person looked super confident in them (although of course they were far less vocal about it than us).
The split toe sock is a commonly sported accessory here, i.e. your big toe goes in one part and the other 4 toes in another. This of course has the advantage that you can quite easily wear socks with a flip flop or geta: this combination of sock and sandal seems to be almost de rigeur here (a look more commonly frowned upon in the west).
I was however a little surprised to see split toe boots sported by Japanese taking part in a local festival in Tokyo as well as by the gardeners in some of Kyoto’s temples. For the life of me I couldn’t work out the rationale behind this particular design. But perhaps there isn’t one: after all, not everything needs an explanation. You can also get socks with 5 individual toe sections but they don’t seems as popular (presumably a bit too much effort to put on).
And for fashion lovers, platform shoes seem to be very popular here especially among the trendy young Tokyo-ites.