Ankle-high and with a separation between the big toe and all of the other toes, these traditional Japanese socks are known as Tabi. For those who are interested in the kanji, 足袋has the literal meaning of foot pouch, 足 (ta) meaning foot and 袋 (bi) meaning pouch. With the traditional go-to shoe of Japan being a wooden flip-flop-like sandal with a split separating the big toe from the others (geta, zori, and okobo for the geishas), tabi socks are necessary to comfortably compliment these shoes. Here are six things to know about Tabi socks – one of the most well-known traditional Japanese footwear.
1. What Are They Made Out Of?
Modern-day tabi are made out of stretchy material that can be slipped on like the socks worn every day. However, traditional tabi socks were not as stretchy and were made out of a thicker, sturdier material like leather and worked to protect the feet. Due to their lack of elasticity, traditional tabi socks opened at the back. The wearer would slide their feet into the tabi and fasten the back with the built-in clasps for closure. Tabi are made out of cotton and traditionally were white or black, but now feature many colors and patterns.
2. Who Usually Wears Tabi?
Everyone with feet can wear and will wear tabi. Traditionally and modernly, white tabi socks are worn by both men and women during formal occasions. Traditionally, black or blue tabi were worn by men while working or traveling, which makes sense. White tabi will definitely show how long and hard a guy traveled. As time went on, tabi began to adopt various fun colors and patterns, even faces of characters can be found on tabi. These patterned and colorful tabi are usually worn by women; however, they are also growing in popularity among men as well.
3. Tabi-Shoes? They’re Called Jikatabi
If you have ever watched a movie, either modern or traditional, with Japanese workers or samurais, or even a western film or cartoon depicting ninjas, you may have seen tabi socks being worn without sandals. Those tabi “socks” are not socks at all, in fact, they are actually shoes designed with the same big toe-isolating style except they are made with thicker material and rubber soles like any other shoe. They are called Jikatabi. Jikatabi are worn by the working class traditionally but have become something of a fashion statement especially in Japonica style fashion.
4. Where Can You Get Them?
In regards to all things tabi, the first place that comes to mind for acquiring a pair or two is Kyoto. Without fail, anyone can find a pair of tabi in Kyoto, whether it be the more traditional type or the more modern type. The Kyoto shop Sou Sou sells them in many fun colors and patterns. Other places you can find them include Kimono and Yukata shops, hyaku en stores, and any other store that sells socks. Geta and similar shoes are still widely worn around Japan, so tabi socks can be found everywhere.
5. Alternative to Tabi
Many westerners find the two-parted tabi socks interestingly weird or cool because it’s different and they are used to one partless sock to stick their feet in; however, a type of sock that is very similar to tabi socks are the 5 toe socks that were popular in the 90s and early 2000s. Instead of just two compartments for toes, each toe has its own compartment, like a glove for your foot. These socks would definitely keep your toes warm during the winter months. In Japan, they are called gohon yubi no kutsushita or 5-toe socks.
6. Sock Etiquette in Japan
While on the topic of socks, it is important to go over the unspoken etiquette of socks in Japan. It’s a given to some, but not everyone thinks about the presentation of their socks when visiting a culture that requires your shoes to be left at the door. To maintain a good impression, your socks should be nice and clean not dingy with dirt stains or holes. Just as your clothing is clean, your socks should maintain the same cleanliness as well. This includes smells. Don’t wear smelly socks or any socks that you’d be embarrassed to show. Remember this and your impressions will be that much better.
Socks have many purposes including protecting your shoes and feet from moisture, creating a polished look, for style and more. They can also be a lot of fun when used for fashion. If you are a person who enjoys sock fashion, Tabi socks are a great way to spice up your stylish sock collection. Some people enjoy pairing kimon with colorful tabi for a Harajuku look. If you want to achieve a traditional kimono look for less, pairing white modern-style tabi socks with a (less expensive) Yukata will do the trick. So, head to your nearest store in Japan and find a pair of comfortable, colorful tabi to add to your collection. You won’t regret it.
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