In one form or another geta shoes have been worn in Japan for millennia. The pair illustrated here are typical of the traditional wooden sandals, which attach to the foot with a strap, like flip flops.
This style of geta consists of a wooden board called a dai on which the foot rests, with a cloth thong, known as the hanao, which passes between the big toe and second toe. The shoe is elevated by distinctive wooden teeth called ‘ha’. Commonly there are two teeth, as in the pair shown here, but there may be just one, most likely to be worn by men or, more rarely, three. If there are two teeth the front one is placed under the ball of the foot, and the geta pivots on it while walking, while the rear one supports the standing centre of gravity. The teeth make a distinctive “clacking” sound while walking. There are also special geta worn by geisha in training that are solid with the toe slanted at the front. They may also be worn by young girls during traditional celebrations.
The original purpose of raised shoes was to keep feet from coming in contact with things on the ground, such as dirt, filth, water, or snow. For example merchants and sushi chefs traditionally wore extremely high geta to keep some distance between them and the scraps on the floor. Geta are made in different heights for different weather conditions. For women wearing kimonos geta ensure the fabric does not touch the ground. It should also be remembered that Japanese people remove footwear on entering their homes and geta are easily removed.
The hanao can vary in width and can be made with a variety of fabrics. Colourful patterns and traditional Japanese motifs are popular, but there are also geta with vinyl and leather hanao.
Geta may no longer be the everyday choice of footwear, but they are comfortable and are popular at fireworks festivals and other traditional events. Though traditional, geta are still made and are readily available.