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Zori – Traditional Japanese Sandals Explained

Updated on August 8, 2012

What are Zori?

Zori are Japanese sandals that provide comfortable support along with air circulation for your feet. Zori are made of straw, tatami, or velvet and some are considered more casual than others. Sandals in the United States are based on the zori of Japan. They became popular in the U.S. during World War II. If you have never owned a pair of zori, I suggest you try them in the near future.

Today, Zori are still made out of straw just as they were originally when they were made by farmers who didn’t have a lot of money. They used the straw which was widely available in the country to make the soles and used the cloth they had for the straps. Zori have been around for many years. Mine are not that old, but they have accumulated a lot of mileage.

A Gift

My zori were a gift, given to me seven years ago by a fellow Aikido student named Ayoko. A few days before she moved back to Japan, she gave my sensei and I each a pair of neatly wrapped zori at her own going away party. She did this because I was her sempai (senior student) and she is very traditional. At the time, I wasn’t really big on sandals, but these were special and I had to wear them everywhere as soon as it was warm outside.

When I first started wearing them the hanao (toe strap) were very stiff and it took a while before I broke them in. The hanao were so stiff that someone could hear me coming a mile away because they would flop so quickly on the bottom of my heel. As they loosened up, I was able to work on a step that was a bit quieter. I even watched how a visiting instructor walked in his wooden zori to perfect my own walk.

A Lot of Steps

My zori have been with me for countless steps (I’ve rounded it to 1,047,480) throughout these past seven years. I wore them in the dojo, around town, and even in Springfield when I met the love of my life. My zori were there when I received my Shodan rank and a couple of years later when my son was born. I have worn them so much that the hanao have even taken the form of my feet, so I can tell if I slip them onto the wrong foot.

After seven years they are starting to show some wear and tear from all of the support I have received. I foolishly tried to replace them with flip –flops so that I could retire them before they became too worn out. I had my flip-flops for about a week and the thong ripped out of the left foot along with a chunk of material. Cheap flip-flops last a week and zori last seven years…I think the universe was trying to tell me something there.

Soul Stepping

They used to say the samurai’s katana was his soul and a part of him, I think it is the same with zori too. I felt a bit odd wearing flip-flops, probably because they are flatter and not shaped as well as my zori. Perhaps it was because I have part of myself connected with them and I wasn’t meant to hang them up to rest just yet. We just might have a few thousand more steps and experiences to go through together.

Yes it seems strange to write about things that you wear on your feet as if they were alive. I didn’t understand why I felt like I did when I chose to hang them up. After writing this hub, I now understand and I know I will have to get another pair of zori when mine are truly ready to be retired.


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