Japanese Jika-tabi Footwear

Jika-tabi is traditional Japanese footwear that seemed on its way to obscurity. Only recently with pro-golfer Ai Miyazato and the boxer Daiki Kameda sporting jika-tabi is it fast gaining popularity again. Scientists who specialize in motion dynamics have noted the key benefits of jika-tabi, and its unique design is starting to reshape the footwear industry.

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Jika-tabi  (地下足袋) was invented by Tokujirō Ishibashi, the brother of the founder of the Bridgestone Corporation, a popular tire manufacturing company. They were popularized in the 1920s by the Asahi Corporation.  Jika-tabi resemble boots and are considered heavy-duty. What makes the footwear unique is its characteristic divided toe area. It was created this way so that people could wear their slip-on thonged footwear inside the jika-tabi. During World War II, Japanese soldiers started wearing jika-tabi. After the war, Western shoes entered the Japanese market and pushed jika-tabi in the background.

Jika-tabi shoes. | istolethetv

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Jika-tabi shoes are often made with rubber soles and tough material that is able to withstand the rigors of heavy work. They are the preferred footwear of many rickshaw-pullers, construction workers, farmers, gardeners, and other types of laborers. Jika-tabi is slowly being replaced by steel-toed shoes that offer more protection for the feet from falls and sharp objects. But there are other people who still choose to wear the comfortable jika-tabi because of its flexibility. It allows the wearer to grip the ground more and doesn’t restrict their feet as much compared to other types of shoes. Construction workers find it easier to balance on girders and beams, and it gives carpenters and gardeners more mobility. There is an all rubber, knee-high jika-tabi specially made for farmers who work the wet, muddy fields.

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Recently, jika-tabi manufacturers Marugo and Rikio came up with the “steel toe” and “hard resin” jika-tabi that is now approved by the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC).

People who practice martial arts or certain kinds of exercise such as trail-running, climbing and walking also prefer using the jika-tabi.  In fact,they are known as the ninja shoes in the Western world even if ninjas are said to never have worn them. The big toe plays an important part in balancing and walking. With the jika-tabi design, the feet have more freedom of movement.

Jika-tabi for sale. | Yuya Tamai