KYOTO--It's becoming comfortable and stylish to "walk like a Japanese," in traditional “jika-tabi” split-toe footwear that has long given much-needed traction and comfort to construction workers and miners.
The Japanese-style work shoe can be found in one of the clothing stores and assorted sundries shops in Shinkyogoku district here that are operated by apparel brand Sou Sou. The name of the shop selling the shoes is “Sou Sou Tabi.”
“I learned about ‘tabi' shoes from one of my yoga friends. I like them because they are easy for me to walk in and take a balanced stance,” said a 40-year-old French woman who visited the shop.
“I also bought three pairs in Paris,” she added.
Jika-tabi, in which rubber is pasted on the bottom of shoes for added traction, spread among workers in the Taisho Era (1912-1926). In addition, the shoe is divided into two portions--one for the big toe and the other for the remaining toes. The design and softness of the shoe makes it comfortable for wearers to walk around in and be able to grip and feel the ground with assurance.
The functionality and the shape attracted Sou Sou President Takeshi Wakabayashi, 44. After working at a clothing company and operating a shop, he established Sou Sou in 2002, saying, “I want to promote Japanese-style designs suitable for contemporary lives."
In 2003, he opened his first shop in Tokyo. Soon after, he began to sell jika-tabi.
Wakabayashi did not change the shape of the footwear, thinking its functionality had already been perfected. So he exercised his ingenuity in design, including the linings, as he also wanted to show them off in some of the footwear.
The colorful and fashionable linings became a hit among women and foreigners who had not been familiar with jika-tabi. Customers also enjoyed being able to choose from among nearly 100 designs.
Wakabayashi also produced jika-tabi for other intended purposes besides a work boot, such as to be worn as slippers and as athletic shoes.
“Sneakers have various types of purposes, such as those for basketball and those for running. I think that the same can be said for jika-tabi,” Wakabayashi said.
Currently, cheap jika-tabi made in China have spread in Japan, particularly in workmen's clothing stores. In the face of such competition, Wakabayashi has established an arrangement with domestic production centers such as in Takasago, Hyogo Prefecture, and Kurume, Fukuoka Prefecture, and has asked craftsmen in those areas to produce his jika-tabi.
Wakabayashi has placed a priority on making the shoes by handmade methods, and is aiming to produce jika-tabi that will be loved and enjoyed by their wearers for many years.
He also accepts trade-in and repair requests for used jika-tabi.
One of his customers brought his used jika-tabi, whose bottom rubber has been worn out, to Wakabayashi for repair.
“I cannot buy jika-tabi of this design any more as its production has already stopped," the customer told him. "But I have a liking for this design.”
Wakabayashi’s jika-tabi attracts people’s attention to wearers’ feet. They are likely to be suitable not only for Japanese-style clothing but also for some Western-style outfits.
Wearing jika-tabi makes people want to walk around not only work sites, but around town as well, while looking fashionable.
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