Shoe unders (Japanese socks) for any occasion

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.

getting fit for tabi socks

At the bridal studio finding the right size of tabi in the days before my Shinto wedding. (Credit: C.B.)

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.

striped toe socks from Japan

Japanese shoe unders that are also toe socks.

Packaged toes

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.

family toe socks

A happy family hanging out on my toes!

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.

Yes, these are one *pair* of socks. How can you not smile when you have these on your feet?!

Yes, these are one *pair* of socks. How can you not smile when you have these on your feet?

My family knows my love of toes socks and found holiday themed ones in Canada!

penguin toe socks

When did Canadian stores start stocking toe socks??

How are you? Fine, thank you!

These cheeky socks always make me laugh out loud!

These cheeky socks always make me laugh out loud. I like to point these out to people and grin knowingly. It’s a pity that more people are not as into my socks as me.

Why aren’t more socks made like this?

Ashi Mushi

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.

My mom picked these almost knee-high, fuzzy, striped socks up in Japan for me.

My mom picked these almost knee-high, fuzzy, striped socks up in Japan for me.

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!

thank you toe socks

Thanks for reading and have a great day! (Credit: Hitoshi)

Do you have a favorite type of sock? Have you explored the sometimes wild and wacky sock trends in Japan or somewhere else?

4 thoughts on “Shoe unders (Japanese socks) for any occasion

  1. Super interesting!!!! I was not aware that there were much more kinds of “shoe unders (hilarious!) ” in Japan than in other countries!!
    My favorite shoe unders are of “Psycho Bunny” (lol), a design of a skull with long ears.
    About the problems of stinky feet… The only one solution is not to go to Izakaya style restaurants with anybody who seems to have stinky feet! Hahaha. But I heard many young girls have stinky feet recently because they like to wear long boots.

    • Thanks, Rei! Of course! Although I’m seeing more fun socks, oops! shoe unders here than I used to.
      Thanks for the kuuuuuuusai ashi update! I forgot about izakayas so keep your nose above the table to stay safe. 😀

  2. Those shoe unders look so cute! I especially like the one black ones with the little faces!

    On the topic of foot ‘issues’, I ve always wondered whether smelly feet are in issue in countries as Japan and Korea where people take off their shoes indoors? Or maybe it’s actually less of an issue because they take them off all the time????

    • Me, too! I love the family socks. Too bad I’ve worn them so much that the baby is starting to wear off. 😀 I didn’t think of taking pics when I bought them a couple of years ago. 😀

      Hmm… that’s a good question. Even with barely there shoes, women usually wear some sort of sock. I think that helps. Stinky feet are a problem anywhere all year round with shoes that don’t breathe but it can be a bigger problem in the summer. My first apartment had really bad mould and it grew on my leather shoes. Ewww! My running shoes started to stink too with the extra humidity. My other shoes weren’t too bad. I did my best to avoid wearing nylons or knee highs and stuck to socks whenever I could for work. I’ll ask hubby what he thinks!

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