When talking about Japanese socks, we immediately picture the traditional tabi. Tabi (足袋) are instantly recognizable, with the distinctive feature of separating the big toe from the rest of the toes. This separation allows them to match traditional Japanese shoes such as geta or zori, sandals with a strap separating the big toe from the others.
Traditional tabi are made of cotton and have a more rigid bottom part than regular socks so that they can be used as indoor footwear. They are not elastic like Western socks. To put them on, you have to insert your foot from the back and then close them with a metal fastening system.
Tabi are still worn these days for ceremonies, for example, where people dress in wafuku 和服 (traditional Japanese style). The traditional colors are black and white, however, nowadays it is possible to find tabi in a very wide variety of colors and patterns.
There is also a variation of the tabi, called the jika-tabi. These are shoes with a rubber sole that separate the toes like tabi socks. You may have seen them in some movies, worn by ninjas. In reality, they are generally worn by workers, rickshaw drivers or farmers.
Jika-tabi literally means "tabi for the ground". Contrary to tabi which are not supposed to come in contact with the ground except inside houses. Jika-tabi are shoes designed for outdoor use.
Japanese socks and good manners
In Japan, it is customary to remove your shoes at the door before entering a Japanese home. As a result, socks are seen much more often than in other countries. They may even be seen several times a day and Japanese people will not hesitate to comment on them. Wearing socks with holes or dirty socks is considered to be very disrespectful. If you want to make a good impression, wear nice and clean socks.
Shoes are left at the entrance, genkan in Japanese.
Even if the new generations are less fussy about these traditions, it is still recommended to wear a nice pair of socks. Here is a selection of the different types of socks in Japan:
The modern tabi are shaped like the traditional tabi with the separation of the big toe. What makes them different is the material. Modern tabi are made of materials that give them the elasticity of a western sock and thus no longer need a fastening system.
In Japan, these socks are very common. You can find them in all kind of colors, from sober socks to go to work to kitsch socks representing manga characters or Japanese sceneries. Check out our collection of Japanese socks and try these unique, comfortable and beneficial socks.
The five toes socks
If separating one toe was such a great invention, separating five toes should make your socks even more fun to wear. These socks that separate your five toes (５本指の靴下 gohon-yubi no kutsushita) are basically foot gloves. They were invented in Spain but popularized in Japan.
Japanese experts conducted research and showed that these socks improve blood circulation in the feet. Despite these health benefits, these socks are not much in vogue, but, if you visit a sock store in Japan, you will certainly find some.
In Japan, even chairs wear socks. But why would a chair need socks? Well, the tatami mats that cover the floors of Japanese houses were not designed to withstand western chairs. These socks allow the chair not to scratch the ground. You will find a lot of stores in Japan that sell this kind of socks for chairs.
Loose pleated socks (slouch socks)
Loose socks were the must-have fashion accessory for high school and college girls in the 90s. For Japanese students, wearing a uniform is mandatory and doesn't leave much room for personal style. The loose socks are a great way to add a personal touch to their look. These socks are very large, usually white, worn over the normal socks and can reach up to the knee.
In the 2000s, the loose socks fashion started to fade away but still is present, especially thanks to mangas. These oversized socks are linked to the image of the Japanese student, as well as the uniform. Nowadays, loose socks can be used for a Cosplay costume for example.