Literal translations of Japanese can be hysterical. Two favorites are tebukuro, literally hand bag. Imagining a bag for my hand leaves me in stitches. If you didn’t already guess, “glove” is the rather boring-in-comparison meaning.
The other winner is tabi or foot bag. This refers to the traditional split-toe sock worn with sandals and kimono. Regular socks are kutsushita or shoe under.
Shoe Unders in Japan
Japan has many shops that only sell shoe unders aka socks. The whole time I was living in Japan, I gave these places a pass. My feet are oversized, by Japan standards, although there are more options now.
Shoe unders were also not something I paid much attention to. Who sees my shoe unders?! Well, in Japan, your shoe unders are usually on show at least once a day. It took me forever but it was time to put away the boring white, black or grey running socks (no! not tube socks – but close enough) and be drastic.
It wasn’t until I left Japan and came back on holidays that I crossed the line from blah to festivals on my feet. My top three shoe under types from Japan are toe socks, conversation socks and fuzzy socks.
The first time I saw toe socks on human feet was after Hitoshi and I got engaged, so long ago. My brother-in-law was padding around the tatami matt at Hitoshi’s family home and I happened to look at his feet. After pointing, laughing and asking why, my brother-in-law professed love for his unique sock choice. I still thought it/he was odd.
Years later, I became wise and toe socks are fabulous. Now Hitoshi thinks I’m the weird one.
Why does Hitoshi think I should feel embarrassed about toe socks? There is a product in Japan for people with mizu mushi or water bugs. The English term is athlete’s foot, which “sounds cool”, according to Hitoshi. Mentioning mizu mushi in casual conversation is apparently enough to prompt disgust. Dropping athlete’s foot at a dinner party would also fare poorly. Thankfully I have no shame about my socks (now) or the condition of my feet.
Toe socks take an effort to get into. They force me to slow down since you can’t rush putting them on. This is a nice bonus and could be marketed as a calming strategy for frenzied sock wearers.
Once the socks are on, they feel weird since my toes are rarely individually packaged. After moving around though, the packaged sensation goes away and they are surprisingly comfortable.
My family knows my love of toes socks and found holiday themed ones in Canada!
How are you? Fine, thank you!
Why aren’t more socks made like this?
Japanese is thrifty and uses the same word for leg and foot: ashi. While the Kanji is different, the pronunciation is not.
When I wear my fuzzy, mid-thigh socks, I feel like a striped caterpillar. These socks are super warm, soft and the best solution for cold feet in Japanese homes where central heating does not exist.
Sock Buying Tips
If your feet are 25cm or less, you have an easy pick at sock stores and anywhere else that sells funky shoe unders.
If your feet are larger, your choices are not as extensive. That said, don’t feel shy about looking in the men’s section. The conversation socks, family toe socks and polite socks below are all for men. Depending on the store, there can be plenty of colors and styles.
When the cashier confirms that you are buying men’s socks for you, smile and say YES!
Do you have a favorite type of sock? Have you explored the sometimes wild and wacky sock trends in Japan or somewhere else?