Sunday, June 28, 2009

What's the Zori

Nobody loves flip-flops more than I do, especially on a hot day. But here's what happens. I put on my Havaianas (shut up: they were a gift), step out to buy milk, and remember only once inescapably within sightlines that there are lots of cafes lining the street, filled with stylish women who invested the 30 extra seconds to put on actual shoes. And I regret taking the easy way out. So when I saw this picture of beautifully pedicured feet in traditional Japanese zori (or possibly geta, which is the same idea up top but with wooden platforms underneath) I thought -- yup, that's a much nicer look. And not substantially different in the all-important slide-on factor than its rubber cousin from Brazil.

In Japan one finds zoris with rectangular soles of vinyl, lacquered wood, rubber, or covered with bulrush or other plant fibre (reminiscent of a tatami mat). The thong element (known as hanao) could be of velour or thin vinyl, or, most beautifully, of brocade. The materials are dictated by the formality of the occasions at which the shoes are worn. Traditionally, in formal situations, these shoes are always worn with white socks.

Unless a formal tea ceremony is on your agenda, there's no need to wear the socks or obsess over the materials. Comfort and prettiness should rule. An eBay seller with some pretty examples is here. If you live in a city that has an Asian import store, it might be fun to have a look round there as well.

One bit of traditional zori lore to keep in mind: if you break a strap, it's bad luck. Not least because you'll be walking half-barefoot back home.

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