Even today, it’s not unusual to see people walking through the streets of Tokyo elegant dressed in kimono, and next time you do, pay attention to their feet. If you look down you will probably see a pair of Geta.
To learn a little more about this iconic and still very relevant footwear, we’ve selected some of the most beautiful and interesting examples of Japanese geta from the 17th century right up to the modern day.
What are Geta?
Geta are traditional Japanese footwear, which design-wise you could say sit somewhere between a beach flip-flop and a Dutch clog! Often heard before they are seen, this unique shoe is typically made from solid wood, creating a very distinctive clopping sound when worn.
The most classic style of geta is comprised of one board of solid wood on top, with two smaller pegs, on the bottom, situated closer to the front of the shoe. The pegs are known as ha, which means tooth. The geta also has a cousin, known as the zori, which is similar in structure but toothless. On the top of the shoe you will find the v-shaped strip of cloth known as the hanao.
The shape of these 19th century geta is similar to those you might see in the streets today. These ones however are quite special as they feature some incredibly ornate dragon shaped carving. Made from thick and rustic balsa wood, and finished with grey ostrich upper on the thong strap. Given the craftsmanship and materials used, these shoes were probably for someone of a higher social ranking.
Historically, geta were worn as part of a traditional style Japanese outfit, styled with a kimono in the cooler weather and a yukata during summer. They were, and still are, usually paired with pure white socks called tabi. Sneaker-wearers will know how quickly white footwear picks up the dirt of the street, which is why geta are elevated so high from the ground on their wooden teeth.
Contemporary Geta by Mizutori
Before we look further back in time, you should know that geta are inspiring some glorious footwear today. One contemporary version of this classic shoe, that you can effortlessly wear today is this pair of geta-inspired sandals featuring soft, blue and black cloth over the toe. Blending both traditional aesthetics with a more modern everyday feel, these geta sandals have been crafted from wood, while the sole has been made from synthetic for comfort. These are handmade in Japan and you can buy yourself a pair over at Amazon.
Geta in Japanese Art
You can get a sense of the long history of geta shoes in this woodblock print by artist Isoda Koryusai (1735–1790). Entitled Young Man Removing Snow from Woman's Geta, the image is lovely moment frozen in time. Koryusai had a knack for capturing small everyday moments and transforming them into something special, which is what garnered him a cult fan base. Throughout the 18th century he crafted around four images a week, totaling around 2,500 pictures, making him perhaps one of the most productive artists of his time.
Geta in the Pleasure Quarters
Taken from the Meiji Period, in the late 19th century, these incredibly high nimaiba geta look almost like pieces of avant-garde fashion, or contemporary sculpture. They were constructed using wood covered with black lacquer, straw, and finished with velvet to create a softer, more sophisticated edge. Nimaiba geta were typically crafted for courtesans, or in Japanese oiran, women of pleasure. Different to geisha, oiran were actually sex workers, however many also became famous for their entertainment skills beyond the bedroom.
Oiran, geisha and maiko, could be easily distinguished by their kimono. To find out more about the garment's rich history take a look at The Art of Japanese Kimono.
The Splendor of Lacquer Geta
This sleek pair of geta was crafted from black lacquered wood, featuring a gold bamboo designed finish and an elegantly patterned silk hanao. Created in the early 20th century, they’re a little more modern in aesthetics than the classic geta, designed to be worn for special occasions, or to be predominantly ornamental.
How to Make Geta
Here we have an image of a geta maker in action. A hand colored collotype print, the artist of the image is unknown, but it’s estimated that the image was created during the Meiji–Taisho era (early 20th century). Geta makers used a variety of different woods to create their meticulously crafted shoes, however one of the most common woods they sourced was from cedar wood, which not only looks beautiful and natural, but also has fine soft grain. Geta making hit a peak during the 19th century, but the trade still exists today.
Tatami Geta with Fur Trim
This fur-lined pair of shoes looks almost half clog, half geta. The front half is covered, while if you play close inspection you’ll see the sole of the shoe is covered in tatami (woven rice straw) a material classically used as inside flooring in traditional Japanese homes. Along the side of the shoe you’ll see delicate paintings of cranes and pine trees painted in a backdrop of soft red lacquer. Made from lacquered wood, silk, rabbit fur, grass and metal, it’s estimated these were created in the 1920s.
Innovative Heel-less Shoes
Crafted in 2013, these seemingly gravity-defying shoes were created by Japanese designer Noritaka Tatehana, inspired by the traditional Japanese geta more specifically perhaps the nimaiba geta. Crafted using leather and metal, these shoes combine aesthetics of the western high heel with the geta, alluding to the ideology that in historical times, elevated footwear was a marker of nobility and a higher social status, both for men and women.
It's not just geta that have inspired modern Japanese fashion, the kimono itself is going through something of a renaissance. Check out The Future of Kimono Fashion to see more.
Do you have a favorite incarnation of the geta, or do you own a pair yourself? Let us know in the comments below.
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