Thursday, July 21, 2011

Japanese street wear: Jikatabi

A year ago I’ve discovered Jikatabi - split-toe canvas shoes with rubber soles, the shoe style that, apparently, was adopted from the Japanese construction workers who still favor them.

However, now, it’s more than just shoes for the construction workers – it’s now a fashionable trend on its own.

These shoes now come in many colors and styles, keeping one feature the same – split toes.

Originally jikatabi came always in black color, but once it became popular with the mainstream in Japan and other countries, Kyoto-based company SOU・SOU has been inventing not only the different colors and patterns, but also the styles – from ‘beach wear’ to ‘winter wear’.

SOU・SOU’s jikatabi, simple edition - and all hand-sewn! Courtesy of SOU・SOU.
Surely, SOU・SOU is not the first company to give Japanese jikatabi a modern look. Back in the 1980s, Martin Margiela couldn’t resist Japanese functionality and created a high-heel jikatabi. A couple of years ago you might have stumbled upon Nike’s jikatabi-style Air Rift, which was inspired by the barefoot sprinting national team of Kenya. Some of you martial arts fans may think these are ninja shoes, but they are the traditional footwear of gardeners and construction workers. Only now they have been updated for the fashionistas. Moreover, the ‘Japanese’ trend came to USA in the likes of ‘swimming’ shoes – the ones you see some of the surfers wear on the US beaches, only those came with split toes for all 5 toes.

SOU・SOU’s model “TA-I-RU.” Courtesy of SOU・SO
I  must admit, once I got these shoes, I was instantly interested to know more about them – the origins, the reasoning behind the split toes and more. I didn’t even know the name for them, so my first Google search – and a successful one (thanks to my knowledge of SEO and such) - was based on the basics “Japanese shoes with split toes”…And I got all sort of information about it.

Here is what the designer of these shoes himself says about it.
SOU・SOU designer Maki Hashimoto: “The separation gives you a better grip. Therefore, the toes are just as important as thumb and fingers. Imagine clinging to a horizontal bar: It is a lot different whether your thumb is above together with the other fingers or alone below the bar. The same goes for jikatabi’s separated toe. It will let you have the best performance both spontaneously and continuously. Additionally, due to the light sole, you can feel the unevenness of the ground and this gives you a good massage effect”.

Model "KO-KA-GE" in leaf green and whitish from Kyoto-based jikatabi designers SOU・SOU. Courtesy of SOU・SOU.
True, true, true. I’ve never been so comfortable in the shoes in my life. I feel like I’m walking barefoot.
Hashimoto’s explanation makes sense. For these practical reasons Japanese workers chose to wear them and they continue to do so to date.

And as it often happens with Japanese fashion, technology and such, the new design has quickly been picked up by the fashionistas. But, why again would anyone wear them, and most importantly – with what, what outfits to pair them with?

 “It is not unusual that articles that once have been work wear are turned into fashion items. Just think of jeans, military clothes, even jeeps… They all exceeded their original purpose to be adapted as everyday life products. Jikatabi are a very ‘noble’ footwear, because they combine three factors: a unique look, high functionality and the representation of traditional Japanese footwear,“ - says Maki Hashimoto.

Template tools…

…to cut out the shoe fabric.

Then the rubber sole…

…is sewn on.
However, my Jikatabi are the most simple one – the basic. White and simple. But there are many patterns and colors to them, which, apparently, is the result of the influences of many local areas in Japan, where they are manufactured.

Jikatabi are manufactured in three different locations in Japan - Kurume in Fukuoka prefecture, Takasago in Hyogo prefecture, Okayama, and Gyouda in Saitama. As every single one of these areas has a history in jikatabi making, they all developed a unique jikatabi style. So, they are all genuine articles of the places they were produced in.
Glued jikatabi from Takasago - with traditional motifs.
Hand-sewn examples from Gyouda, Saitama prefecture.
This local flavour and the special manufacturing skills inherited from one generation to the next are the prerequisites of the different SOU・SOU styles. For example, all hand-sewn jikatabi are from Gyouda, while all the glued ones resembling sneakers are from Takasago.

Model “DA-N-DA-N” in black and white. Courtesy of SOU・SOU.
Moreover, the uniqueness of this split toe shoes is not only about the design itself, it’s the fact that they are ALL handmade, they are not mass produced. Jikatabi are made by hand in local workshops.
The patterns of these shoes - are typical Japanese patterns. For example: maple leaves, hiragana characters, crest-like emblems or portraits of kabuki actors deriving from Ukiyo-e. The jikatabi colours, however, are fresh and trendy: Often, the patterns consist of one or two strong colors on white or black backgrounds. The patterns itself try to be simple and clear - very Japanese. 
The ‘buttons’ as ornamentation on the shoe’s back. Courtesy of SOU・SOU.

Noteworthy are also the ‘buttons’ on the back of the jikatabi. These kinds of items are usually used to keep a kimono closed.

Hand-sewn jikatabi made in Gyouda, Saitama prefecture. Courtesy of SOU・SOU.
Recently there has been another addition to the very Japanese patterns – the influence of other countries.
Sou Sou and Le Coq Sportif – the influence of Arabian culture – Arabian numeric system. Courtesy of SOU・SOU.
And as with many other goods of other countries we don’t see much of in USA – like French Epoissee (few Americans know what really good cheese tastes like, because the U.S. government bans tasty handmade cheese made from untreated milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibits the sale of cheese made with raw milk), Asian mangosteens that taste like a combination of strawberry and honeydew melon (The USDA requires potential importers of exotic fruits to be free of any organisms that could harm the domestic fruit industry) and Spanish Iberico ham (the long-term prohibition on import of Spanish pork products is traceable to incidences in Spain of African swine fever, which could infect domestic pigs), there are certain styles of jikatabi that are sold only in Japan, as of the moment. 
These are the SOU・SOU’s high-heeled boots – the company’s collaboration with French Le Coq Sportif.
And lastly, one of the questions I’ve been asked each time I wear my jikatabi is – how practical they are since these shoes are simply fabric with rubber soles, how to deal with rain, and how to clean them… Good question, so far I’ve only worn them indoors and in warm, dry weather. Here is what Maki Hashimoto says.
“Well, with waterproof-spray they are as water resistant as any other sneakers made out of fabric. However, there is hardly any shoe to be found in the world that is completely waterproof and does not make your feet sweat…”.
Now you can buy jikatabi online or visit the Sou Sou’s store in Aoyama or the one in Odaiba!

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