10 December 2012

Tabi - updated


The image comes from a photoessay at The Telegraph about a Japanese grandmother and her cat.  I was curious about what appear to be her "toed" shoes.  They reminded me of the FiveFingers shoes marketed by Vibram, but I wondered if hers represented a continuation of some folk tradition, perhaps in some practical sense where dexterity of individual toes would be useful.

A quick search yielded a Modern Mechanix article that showed Japanese marathoners wearing "mitten shoes":


A comment there suggested the design was an adaptation for those accustomed to wearing sandals in daily life.  Now I'm wondering if the lady in the first photo is wearing socks or leggings indented by sandals that she has removed.

Not that any of this matters.  Just curious.  Some reader here will know (and perhaps can explain why she bathes with fruit).

Photo credit: Miyoko Ihara / Rex Features

Addendum:  Aha!  In keeping with a long-standing tradition on this blog, no question I pose goes unanswered by the readership.  This one lasted all of about 10 minutes.  Reader Stella identified the lady's footwear as "tabi":
Tabi (足袋?) are traditional Japanese socks. Ankle-high and with a separation between the big toe and other toes, they are worn by both men and women with zori, geta, and other traditional thonged footwear... In contrast to socks that, when pulled on, fit the foot snugly because of their elastic weave, tabi are sewn from cloth cut to form.
This gives wearers tactile contact with the ground and lets them use their feet more agilely than rigid-soled shoes allow: for instance, people who traverse girders on construction sites like to know what is under their feet, and craft practitioners such as carpenters and gardeners additionally use their feet as if they were an extra pair of hands, for example to hold objects in place.
Shown below are "antique Japanese (samurai) armoured tabi" -


Now about those fruit in the bathtub...

Second addendum:  Reader Becky Mulkey recognized the fruit:
Yuzu is also known for its characteristically strong aroma, and the oil from its skin is marketed as a fragrance. In Japan, bathing with yuzu on Tōji, the winter solstice, is a custom that dates to at least the early 18th century. Whole yuzu fruits are floated in the hot water of the bath, sometimes enclosed in a cloth bag, releasing their aroma. The fruit may also be cut in half, allowing the citrus juice to mingle with the bathwater. The yuzu bath, known commonly as yuzuyu, but also as yuzuburo, is said to guard against colds, treat the roughness of skin, warm the body, and relax the mind.
p.s. - the cat is not a "tabby."

Third addendum: Reposted to add this remarkable find by reader xcentric, from collections of the Victoria and Albert, posted at the Smithsonian's Threaded blog:

These socks were made in the 4th to 5th century, and were excavated in Egypt at the end of the 19th century. They have a divided toe and are designed to be worn with sandals.

The technique used for making these socks are commonly confused with knitting. They were made in the technique nålbindning, sometimes called knotless netting or single needle knitting - a technique closer to sewing than knitting. These socks were made using three-ply wool.  
Notes from the Smithsonian:
The technique was frequently used for close-fitting garments for the head, feet and hands because of its elastic qualities. Primarily from prehistoric times, nålbindning came before the two-needle knitting that’s standard today; each needle was crafted from wood or bone that was “flat, blunt and between 6 -10 cm long, relatively large-eyed at one end or the eye is near the middle.”
If this pair of socks is unique in styling, then I suppose there would be another interpretation, not discussed at either the V&A or the Smithsonian - that these socks were custom-made for a high-ranking Egyptian person born with ectrodactyly:

Ectrodactyly, involves the deficiency or absence of one or more central digits of the hand or foot and is also known as split hand/split foot malformation (SHFM). The hands and feet of people with ectrodactyly are often described as "claw-like" and may include only the thumb and one finger (usually either the little finger, ring finger, or a syndactyly of the two) with similar abnormalities of the feet.
I once had a friend with ectrodactyly, but didn't know until writing this up that chess grand master Mikhail Tal also had it.

16 comments:

  1. They're called tabi. Quite old. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Stella! I've added the info from your link to the post. :.)

      Delete
  2. I'm remembering that the split sock (Japan=tabi) allows for wearing flip flops/thongs (Japan-zori).

    ReplyDelete
  3. In the 70's, a friend brought back from Japan with what he called Japanese Carpenter shoes for me. They look similar to what this person is wearing, only they were made of canvas instead of what looks like leather.
    Here's a link showing an example of Japanese Carpenter shoes. Mine were ankle high, whereas the ones in the picture are calf high. I found them to be uncomfortable as they had no arch support.
    Here's the link:
    http://factsanddetails.com/japan.php?itemid=746&catid=20&subcatid=136

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps those are the "jika-tabi" described at the Wikipedia link-

      "Construction workers, farmers and gardeners, rickshaw-pullers, and other workmen often wear a type of tabi called jika-tabi (地下足袋 tabi that contact the ground?). Made of heavier, tougher material and often having rubber soles, jika-tabi resemble boots and are outer footwear rather than socks."

      Delete
  4. That explains the toes of Ninja Turtles! I've always wondered!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Reportedly, members of the Japanese military wore them during World War Two, when their presence helped save the lives of Allied personnel on occasion. The tabi would make for unique footprints in beach sand or other locations, which helped warn of the presence of Japanese personnel.

    ReplyDelete
  6. that cat's bichromatic eyes are stunning.

    ReplyDelete
  7. My best guess about bathing with fruit is a yuzuyu. Yuzu, a citrus fruit similar to a grapefruit, is put in hot bath water as a winter solstice tradition or for ailments such as arthritis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Becky. I've added that info to the post as well. :.)

      Delete
  8. You still see people, mainly construction workers, wearing tabi. I wore them for my wedding.

    ReplyDelete
  9. In Hawaii shore fishermen wear specially modified tabi for safety and comfort. Slippery and sharp lava is hard to walk on, and the surf can be unpredictable.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I stumbled on this interesting example today and was reminded of your blog entry: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/threaded/2012/10/taking-a-closer-look-at-an-odd-pair-of-very-very-old-socks/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. Nice find, xcentric. That is certainly blogworthy as an addendum to this post. Thanks. :.)

      Delete
  11. I recall seeing split toe socks in the ancient Egypt section of the Royal Ontario Museum.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah. Then perhaps they were a standard fashion.

      Delete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...