Work in Japan Advice Board
Japan’s hottest summer on record since 1946 has caused discomfort, heat exhaustion, and even fatalities. City streets trap the heat, and there has been very little rain for relief. Traditional talk about keeping cool to avoid summer fatigue (natsubate) has now turned into serious health warnings about heat stroke. Somehow it seems appropriate to be writing about summer in September.
When air conditioning in Japanese homes and offices was still uncommon there were many traditional ways to beat the heat. Certain foods and drinks are made for summer, including unagi, goya, tofu, cold soba, edamame, and kakigori, which contain nutrients which refresh and cool the body. http://budurl.com/92td.
Summer festivals and fireworks, beer and beaches are a temporary fix, but pretty remote from the daily routine. Ladies hide under parasols and hats. Handkerchiefs help, and folding fans are a friend indeed. Air conditioning is an artificial oasis, but for the most part the heat has been inescapable.
A traditional way of staying cool in the summer is by wearing wooden clogs (geta), and it is one of the best. Geta are traditional Japanese sandals with an elevated wooden base, and a thong made of fabric. http://budurl.com/h9l7
As an exchange student in Japan in the early 1970s, I remember geta everywhere in the summer, not only for their novelty, but because of the wonderful sound and feel they make with each step as the ground knocks on wood. Unfortunately, as many Japanese have traded the traditional footwear in favor of sneakers and shoe leather, this is one of the sounds of summer that has faded from the urban landscape.
Most Japanese still remove their shoes as they enter their homes. Wearing geta allows you maintain that feeling even when you go outside. The sensation of smooth wood on your feet helps keep your body cool. Walking on a slightly elevated surface requires a bit of pedal dexterity, and also makes you more aware of your surroundings. By comparison, wearing shoes is like putting your feet in an oven to bake.
Japanese companies have come a long way in accepting cool biz fashions and short sleeved shirts. But for the most part, their employees’ feet remain under wraps.
In a series hosted by Peter Barakan called Begin Japanology, one program featured Japanese footwear, going into the history, craftsmanship, and high-end aesthetics of geta. You can watch this program on YouTube at: Begin Japanology Footwear Part 1: http://budurl.com/9u9d, Part 2: http://budurl.com/cyyt, and Part 3: http://budurl.com/eyk3 (which includes a section on Nanba Waking!).
Don’t forget that geta can also cost less than a pair of walking shoes, and that they look and feel as good with jeans as with traditional Japanese kimono. For both men and women, this flexibility is part of their appeal. All it would take to have young people bring geta back in style, would be to have the right celebrity take up the fashion. But there is no need to wait for that.
A couple of cautions though, before you make the switch. Geta were originally worn on unpaved road surfaces. Walking in geta for too long on hard concrete surfaces can make your feet hurt and defeat the purpose. Geta also require mindful walking, not only to walk smoothly, but to avoid twisting your ankle. The best way is to grip the geta naturally with your toes as you step. Keep the geta fairly level with the ground by taking shorter steps. It is unstable if you tilt the geta rocking from heel to toe, as people often do in Western shoes.
Many small shops and department stores sell geta, and you can even buy them online. Moreover, you can also wear them in winter with a pair of tabi, a split-toe outer footwear of soft heavy material to keep your feet warm.
Except at the beach, you are not likely to find Japanese walking barefoot out of doors. Even so, their feet traditionally have gotten a plenty of air and exercise, by removing shoes in the house and wearing traditional footwear outside.
Aside from the benefits to your health and awareness, you may find that wearing geta can be a cool and fashionable way to beat the heat.
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William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.