All About Geta Sandals

Geta is traditional Japanese footwear. The Japanese geta has a great resemblance to wooden clogs or the modern day flip-flop. It is akin to a sandal but its base is elevated off the ground and is made of wood. The feet are held in place with a thin piece of fabric that runs from the gap in between the 2 innermost toes and the sides of the feet.

Do Not Confuse the Geta sandal with the Anesthesia or Geta Bratescu

Through the three might share the same name, they are worlds apart. The general endotracheal anesthesia, or geta, is a type of anesthesia that is taken via inhalation. This is an inhalation anesthetic technique wherein a tube is run through the mouth or nose of a patient in order to pass anesthetic gas through the trachea.  

On the other hand, Geta Bratescu is a world renowned visual artist that hails from Romania. Known for her work in illustration, film, photography, drawing, and performance arts, she received the title of Doctor Honoris Causa from the University of Arts Bucharest.

Though these two are famous in their own right the Japanese geta sandals are the original geta. Though this sandal might have looked different and might have carried another name, the geta undeniably has set its roots as far back as the Kofun period of Japan. Many era and leaders have fallen during the history of Japan, but the geta still remains. Having been in use for thousands of years, the Japanese geta sandals have had their own special place in the history of the nation.

Defining and Pronouncing the Geta Sandal

A geta (noun) is the Japanese word used to describe a pair of sandals that closely resembles clogs or flip-flops. Pronounced as get-uh ot ge-tah, the geta is made of a wooden base elevated by one or two wooden supports. The feet are secured on the sandal through the use of a thong fabric that runs through the big and second toe.

Keep your Kimonos and Five Toes Safe with a Japanese Geta Sandal

The geta are most commonly worn with the traditional clothing of the Japanese, which include the yukata and kimono. It is also not uncommon to see the Japanese wear geta with western clothing especially during the warmer months. The added height that the geta provide makes them the perfect footwear for the winter and rainy seasons. The extra height and wooden composition allow the Japanese to wear their traditional clothing and not worry about the bottom getting wet. Compared to the zori, the traditional Japanese footwear made of straw, the geta provides users with a more weather resistant sandal. Similar to flip-flops, the zori has a tendency of scattering dirt or water when walking as the heels would strike the bottom of the heel when in motion. The geta does not have this problem as it is made of a heavier material and does not absorb water.

There are different variations of this traditional Japanese sandal. The one that is most known around the world would be the geta that is made of a dai and hanao. The dai, which is the Japanese word for a stand, is the unfinished piece of wood where the feet rests. The hanao, which is the Japanese word for cloth thong, is the piece of fabric that passes through the gap between the big toe and the one adjacent to it. Socks are not usually worn with geta, especially when they are worn with informal traditional Japanese clothing such as the yukata and even informal western clothing. However, there are some people who prefer to wear traditional Japanese toe socks, called tabi, when wearing a geta. Examples of these people are the maiko. The maiko is the apprentice geisha and they have their own special type of geta as well as tabi to fulfill their uniform. In all actuality, the reason for using a geta was practical. For many individuals, they would have only a handful of kimonos as they were pricey and hard to make. If one were to be outside the whole day and roam the streets wearing a kimono that drapes down to feet level, then it would be best to wear shoes that allowed them to walk without the risk of dirtying their expensive clothes.

Constructing a Geta

As stated earlier the base of the geta is elevated of the ground. The added height is achieved by the use of two supporting pieces of wood called, ha. The ha, which is the Japanese word for teeth is typically made of a much lighter material, called the kiri, than the base board. The kiri, which is the Japanese name for the Paulownia species of tree, makes a distinctive “clack” sound when the sandals strike the floor. This sound is called the karankoron and was very common just a few decades ago. In fact, it was so common that many of the older generations of the Japanese people feel nostalgic just hearing it. The popularity of this footwear is also evident in the traditional saying “You don’t know until you have worn geta.” Though it might not make sense to non-Japanese speakers, the saying roughly translates to the results of anything are not evident until the end. Another superstition is that breaking the hanao of one’s geta is a sign of misfortune. One might say that the Japanese women were ahead of the times as they wore the elevated sandals before platform shoes became a trend in the 70’s.

The geta base board, which acts as the sole, is made from a single piece of solid wood from which the supporting wooden blocks, called ha, are attached. The supporting wooden blocks may also have metal plates on the surface which touches the ground. This metal plates reduced the chances for the supports from breaking and splinting. The wooden base, called the dai, comes in a few different shapes. The supporting wooden blocks may also differ in number and length. The most common of which would be two blocks. The tengu-geta has only a single ha at the center of the wooden base board. There were also instances where people would use geta that would be higher than usual. The two very long teeth of the geta were not made of separate wood this time. It was better to carve the whole sandal out of one sturdy piece of wood. The supporting teeth would  be reinforced with special attachments to avoid splitting or breakage. Pieces of metal could be attached to provide support, rubber could be placed on the soles of the teeth, and hard wood could be inserted into the bottom.

The hanao is where the traditional Japanese aesthetics can be seen. The fabric used in making the hanao is diverse. There are hanao that use traditional Japanese fabrics and patterns. Some hanao are made from left-over fabrics from kimonos. There are also hanao that is made from vinyl and leather. In the inner portions of the hanao lies a cord, which is traditionally made from hemp but recently synthetic, that is tied in a unique fashion to secure the hanao to the three holes of the dai. The hanao is meant to sit between the first and second toes because placing the hanao anywhere else on the rectangular geta would cause the feet of the wearer to hit each other. Recent interest in reviving traditional Japanese fashions has caused a new wave of geta designs. These newer designs have also incorporated more western and modern designs. Some of the newer geta are rounder and more ergonomic in shape. Some have heels as thick as clogs and would have the heel at the back like modern shoes. Some geta might even place the hanao closer to the inner part of the sandal much like flip-flops.

Training to be a Geisha: Geta as Used by Maiko

The geisha in training, called maiko, wore very distinctive and elevated geta. Called the okobo, these geta were very similar in look to the chopine shoe that was popular from the 15th to the 17th century in Europe. Young Japanese girls were also known to have worn a similar type of geta, called the pokkuri or the koppori. These shoes would have a small space in the thick base board from which a bell would be placed. It adds to the appeal of youth to see these young girls playing with their friends while the bells ring within their pokkuri. These shoes were made from one strong and sturdy piece of wood, as opposed to having the teeth be attached. The front part of the geta sandal would slope downwards in order to make walking easier. The pokkuri or koppuri would often be colored red and were meant to be worn with expensive or formal kimonos. 

Serving What’s on the Menu in Style: Geta as Used by Sushi Chefs

Sushi chefs or chefs in general and their apprentices would also wear geta during work hours. The geta they wore would often be exaggerated in height. This serves a few purposes. The first would be that it allows them to stay away from the food, such as rice, fish, and dirt on the floor. It also allows them to have a commanding view of the restaurant. The added height allows them to reach over the table where they assemble the nigiri rolls, prepare the dons, and cut the toro tuna. The added height also allows them to see the person they are serving and it eases the process of taking or receiving orders. It really adds to the traditional feel of a restaurant to eat sushi or drink sake while hearing the clacking of the wooden geta.

High Class Entertainment: Geta as Used by Oiran

The oiran were a group of the highest ranking courtesans during the feudal era of ancient Japan. The oiran were known to wear a special type of geta called the koma- geta, also known as the mitsu-ashi which means three legs. The koma-geta were taller than most geta and were lacquered in design. If the maiko would someday become geisha, it is the geisha that would someday become an oiran. The oiran were the highest one could go in the entertainment industry of those times. The geisha and maiko would only entertain their guest through conversation, song, or dance. The oiran would entertain their guests in a full range of services that goes beyond one night. The geisha and maiko would wear tabi socks alongside their geta while the oiran would not wear any, even during the winter months. Their toes would be seen poking through the bottom layers of their kimonos. The distinction between the shoes and the socks might have been there to place a difference between a geisha, maiko, or oiran. It is no wonder that these Japanese entertainers move slowly through the streets considering the length of their kimonos and the height of their geta. Maybe one should consider the effort it takes to walk before trying to step them for a picture. One should maybe wait and see if they are comfortable enough to take the time to have a photo taken.

Much like most of the things the Japanese have invented, they successfully merge practicality, design, meaning into one item. The geta provides the users with a way to go through their daily lives without having to worry about dirtying their clothes. It also provides the Japanese people to extend their unique aesthetics to their footwear. Last but not the least, the geta was also used as a means to distinguish between the types of work done by people. With newer designs coming out, the message that the geta is making its way into modern fashion.