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Reply-To: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@h-net.msu.edu>
From: Christiane Reinhold <reinholdc@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU>
Subject: H-ASIA: Q. History of sandals in Asia

History of sandals in Asia

A dialog from the H-Asia list
June 1998

June 10, 1998
From: Edward Tenner <tenner@clarity.Princeton.EDU>

I am a historian of technology and culture, affiliated with a science department. My current research deals with everyday objects an the human body, an extension of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss's idea of body techniques (techniques du corps). I have already written on the spread of chairs outside their Mediterranean/Middle Eastern zone of origin, and would be grateful for help now.

I'm interested in the rise of mass-produced footwear in Asia after the Second World War, especially plastic sandals. Some sources suggest that the key influence was the Japanese zori, originally made with a straw sole and a leather thong held between the first and second toes. Japanese soldiers improvised these overseas, often from tire casings, as the Vietnamese insurgents and many others later did.

There seem to be at least two critical changes. One is the rise of new molding techniques for rubber and plastic in Taiwan and elsewhere beginning in the 1950s. Today, most of the workers who make running shoes cannot afford them; they wear plastic sandals.

Apart from an article in the Kodansha encyclopedia there is little in English or other European languages on the zori and other traditional footwear, either in Japan or abroad. Because the plastic footwear industry, though immense, is splintered into thousands of producers worldwide, it is also rarely covered in mainstream business periodicals or even the trade press.

Any suggestions of references and sources on Asian sandal production, traditional and contemporary, their adoption in the West, and indeed on the origins of Asian athletic shoe manufacture would be deeply appreciated. I do not read Asian languages but could find translators locally if high-quality sources exist.

Many thanks,

Edward Tenner

Edward Tenner mail:
Department of Geosciences 4316 Hunters Glen Drive
Princeton University Plainsboro, NJ 08536-3911
Princeton, NJ 08536-3911 Telephone 609 716-0263
tenner@clarity.princeton.edu Fax 609 799-9010

June 10, 1998
From: larrya@asiasoc.org

You might try contacting the Bata Shoe Organization, a large worldwide company long prominent in Asia, for some information, for example.


Anecdotally, I myself only really became a sandal wearer upon living in Asia -- from simple plastic strapless types to genuine leather pairs with straps.

Larry Ashmun
Asia Society

Date: Fri, 12 Jun 1998 17:43:44 -0400
From: Jordan Sand <SANDJ@gunet.georgetown.edu>

The Nihon fuuzokushi jiten (Encyclopedia of the History of Japanese Manners and Customs) reports the wide use of zori (sandals with a thong held between the toes) in Japan from at least the Heian period (794-1185). It does not indicate whether they were indigenous or imported. The modern Japanese worker's zori is woven straw attached to a bicycle-tire sole, typically with a cotton-covered rope thong. These may have spread to other parts of Asia during the war, but I believe I have seen zori-like sandals from Southeast Asia in a museum predating Japanese colonization. They had a single post in the front to be held between the first and second toes. Can a Southeast Asian specialist enlighten us about these?

Jordan Sand
tenner@clarity.princeton.edu Fax 609 799-9010

Date: Sat, 13 Jun 1998 05:23:36 -0400
From: jkirk@micron.net

May I be permitted some intuitive observations on this matter, in hopes of stimulating further hypotheses?

I've noticed that all over India and Bangladesh "thongs" (plastic or rubber) are the thong-between-big-toe-and-2d-toe type so familiar to us all, which were copied from originally imported thongs (sources?). Besides these, however, one finds in India and Nepal variations on the wooden sandal with wooden post between first and 2d toe, a style which is indigenous and very old, judging by sculptures on temples, etc. I understood (correct me if wrong) that these wooden ones were favored by Hindus wishing not to contaminate themselves with leather, and also wishing to observe traditional style.

(Footnote curiosity: When doing research in Bangladesh I encountered a university faculty member who once asked me if I could get him and his wife, both devout Muslims, pairs of those Indian wooden sandals which they could wear during preparations for namaz, so that they could maintain the purity of their wazu before prayers. (Leather in their view was "out". I don't know why plastic wouldn't do. I wish now I had asked them more about it. They asked me because they knew I was going to transit through India.)

A straw sandals I purchased in Nepal in 1978 however were attractive flatbeds with a closed rounded toe, like a slipper. They didn't last long.

In Calcutta, I found various Hindu Bengali intellectuals wearing old style leather slippers with curled toes and mashed-down heels (NOT however the Punjabi embroidered style).

So might it be that the flexible thong sandal or flip-flop (plastic rubber or straw) is not indigenous to the subcontinent but perhaps has a distribution beginning with southeast Asia and moving all the way throughout east Asia? Whereas the closed toe slipper type is more typical of the subcontinent except in the case of the wooden "posted sandal", which is not flexible at all.

The problem with this supposition is the Japanese geta: a high wooden platform sandal. I've never seen a pair up close, so I don't know how they fit to the feet, unless they share the between-toed wooden post that the Hindu sandal has.

If so, then it would seem that between the tropical needs of southern climes (heat and humidity) and invasions by slipper wearing central asians-- south, southeast and east asia share a variety of sandal styles. Determining the original appearance of earlier (pre-plastic and rubber) styles might be a problem.

J Kirkpatrick

June 13, 1998
From: Roopa Unnikrishnan <roopa.unnikrishnan@balliol.oxford.ac.uk>


I'm not sure this is of any help, but in common lore these days it is believed that from the time of the 'Ramayana' slippers were in use that were wooden pallets with a stalk in front that was grasped between the big toe and second toe. There must be references to it in the section of the Ramayana, that talk about Lord Rama's brother Bharatha (?) placing Rama's slippers on the throne, refusing to take over the empire that was rightfully Rama's and symbolically suggesting Rama's continued rule.

June 14, 1998
From: tbestor@stanford-jc.or.jp

I don't know anything about the historical evolution of Japanese footwear, but in present day Japan, geta are held to the feet by a flexible thong (sometimes rope, sometimes a thong covered in a black velveteen kind of fabric) that goes through the base of the sandal, up between the big toe and the second toe and then the two ends go over the arch back toward the middle or back of the foot (and the geta) where the thongs reconnect to the wooden base. Same pattern is uses for other kinds of Japanese sandals (e.g., zori) which are not platforms, but close to the ground sandals. Zori are often (maybe almost always) worn with tabi, which are generally white cotton foot coverings that are close fitting (fasten up the back of the heel as far as the ankle); tabi have a split toe, between the big toe and the other four toes for the sandal thong. Geta, on the other hand, are often worn barefoot.

Ted Bestor

June 14, 1998
From: RCAlbon@aol.com

Interesting tidbit -- during WWII, it was often hard for Japanese authorities to distinguish Koreans from Japanese, since Koreans living in Japan looked similar and could master Japanese customs & language. However, since Japanese wore zoori, or sandals, from a young age, the space between the big toe and second toe was pronounced, so authorities could inspect bare feet and easily diferentiate between Korean and Japanese.

Date: Mon, 15 Jun 1998 18:28:57 -0500
From: Gene Cooper <eugeneco@rcf.usc.edu>

It may be of some interest to those following this thread if I report on my findings regarding the footwear of the Chinese in America. Almost exlusively such folks wear leather shoes, women often wear such footwear with elevated heals, which they believe makes them look more sexy. Some people have characterized this habit as a cultural survival of the native Chinese custom of footbinding which was also supposed to give the women a sexy gate, but the association may be spurious -- similar effects, different causes. But otherwise the leather footwear worn by Chinese American men is nothing like the sandals worn by the Japanese. The leather shoe is constructed of an upper laced to a last and a sole, with a tongue protruding upward toward the instep. Remarkably all five toes are enclosed within the leather, since the upper completely encloses the foot. Usually socks of some kind are worn, presumably to make it easier for the foot to slide into the shoe, but also to provide warmth in the winter. Sometimes, (and this will kill ya') the entire shoe is enclosed in a rubber or plastic boot to prevent the leather from getting wet during rainy or snowy days (usually encountered in the northern climes of the country). I'm still in the midst of my research; I will report more later as the results come in. Sorry, it's a fetish with me.


Gene Cooper

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