I Love My Jika-Tabi!
After a truly enjoyable visit to Tokyo for the holidays, I am back on the ol' homestead for our annual tree pruning. What's making it incredibly fun this year are...MY JIKA-TABI! These are rubber-soled, split-toed "tabi" socks worn by Japanese construction workers, landscapers, Edo Period firemen and others who had "climbing" in their job description.
I love the design of all tabi. (There are no plurals in Japanese, so please don't say kimonos. It's "one kimono, many kimono.") The "hooks" aren't really hooks but little metal "fingernails" that slide into slots on the fabric. Jika-tabi go up a ways higher than normal tabi, and around your pant legs. No flapping pant legs to trip you up and the thin rubber soles are perfect for climbing trees and balancing on narrow limbs. I feel like I could walk a tightrope in them!
"If they had better arch support, I'd wear them instead of shoes," I wrote to a friend, but perhaps that would hamper the effectiveness of jika-tabi. I've seen funky jika-tabi-inspired split-toed sneakers (I think it was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith that showed them to me) but the real deal is cheap and totally utilitarian. Go to any of the workmen's clothes and supply shops in Nishi Shinjuku, just beyond the gleaming high rises and luxury hotels. Not only will you find tons of cool work clothes, but you'll get a little glimpse of what Shinjuku once was.