Table of Contents Hide
Wearing socks and sandals may be considered a faux pas when worn in numerous countries, especially in the West, where it is considered a crime by fashion gurus and trendsetters.
However, socks and sandals are traditional and even considered fashionable in Japan.
If you are from somewhere not used to seeing men and women, young and old alike, wearing socks and sandals, you might find it unfathomable and weird. You might even ask yourself why the Japanese wear socks with sandals.
Well, this is not just about fashion but has mostly to do with culture and tradition.
Wearing of socks and sandals – when did it all start
Wherever you go in Japan, be it in big cities or smaller towns, you will surely see individuals wearing socks and sandals. It’s not something new to them – it is an old tradition that is embraced up to modern times.
Take note that Japan does not have any traditional closed shoes like Korea’s Gomusin. Rather, they have thonged sandal-like footwear, including the wooden geta clogs and okobo footwear, softer zori sandals, or tied-on waraji sandals.
The fashion trend of wearing socks with sandals in Japan began in the mid-700 AD when Tabi, Japanese socks with a split for the large toe, was first created.
Tabi is a cotton foot covering that allows flexible and comfortable movement while wearing traditional Japanese thonged footwear.
At first, only the samurais and the elitists can afford Tabi as it is a hand-crafted luxury item. This is because Tabi is made from 100 percent cotton and is hand sewn. On top of that, cotton is not abundantly available in Japan, making it overly expensive to obtain.
It was only in the 1600s that split-toe socks became available to commoners in Japan, thanks to the mass importation of cotton from China.
Since then, men and women from all walks of life started sporting socks with sandals.
Socks, Sandals, and Japanese Culture
Cleanliness is a big part of Japanese culture and is instilled in them at a very young age. It is even part of the Buddhism and Japanese Shintoism religious beliefs.
This played a big role in the tradition of wearing socks and sandals in Japan.
The Japanese started wearing socks to keep dirt from sticking to their feet. Meanwhile, they wear their sandals to protect their socks and the hem of their clothes from getting dirty.
Doing this allows the Japanese to enter houses and business premises without worries of getting dirt on the floor or tatami mats, which shows respect to the owner of the house or premise they are visiting.
Walking barefoot when entering houses and certain places of business is highly frowned upon, so be extra careful and make sure you are wearing socks when visiting these places.
The Japanese wear platform sandals like geta clogs and okobo to keep their feet clean and dry. These footwear are especially helpful when it is raining, thanks to the added height and water impermeability.
What’s more, the design of these footwear keeps the socks dry, as it prevents the splashing of water or splattering of mud when it rains, keeping the socks, feet, and legs clean and dry.
Meanwhile, Tabi is great for keeping the feet feeling fresh during the hot summer months and warm during the cold winter months. It also protects the feet from getting blisters after hours of wearing thong sandals.
During summer, the Japanese particularly like wearing Tabi socks with sandals when visiting onsens. They are comfy, airy, and fashionable. What’s more, Tabi protects the feet from getting sunburnt.
In winter, Tabi keeps the feet warm and cozy. Not only does it keep the feet from getting cold, it also prevents it from getting wet from the snow.
Joining the trend
Trying local trends, like wearing socks and sandals, and immersing ourselves in different cultures is our main goal when visiting other countries.
There is nothing wrong in trying things out the “local way” if it will not compromise our personal beliefs or get hurt in the process.
Moreover, it will endear us to the locals and make it easier for us to go out and about.
When visiting Japan, try wearing their traditional Tabi with wooden geta or zori sandals to experience and understand why the Japanese prefer them over other footwear. You never know, you might love it as well.