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  • Shona McCarthy

The Zori Doctor of Kawaramachi


(The zori store where I had my footwear resized, taken by me, 2019.)

Have you ever noticed that women who wear kimono seem to be wearing a pair of thongs over a pair of socks on their feet? These special foot wear are called "zori" when made of soft materials, and "geta" when they are made of hard materials.

If you are a contemporary kimono wearer like myself, or even if you simply bought some of these for pleasure, you'll find that most of these are very tight and small. This isn't abnormal. It's considered cool if just a little of your heel pokes out from the back of the shoe. But if you walk far in these, you'll often find your poor little toes are in agony. This is because the hanao or straps of these shoes are often incredibly tight.

Many sellers of these shoes will till you to brave it; to keep wearing these shoes till the straps loosen from wear. However, if you do find yourself in Kyoto, there is a better, more historically accurate answer.

(A picture of the young man who I call a "Zori Doctor". Taken by me in 2019. He is receiving a pair of my geta that need to be resized.)

To find someone who can resize your footwear for a reasonable price, try going to Kawaramachi. I found this place thanks to an expansive used kimono shop in the shotengai nearby. However, I don't remember the name of the store, or the exact address. So I will give you instructions on how to get there. Start out in front of the Kyoto Disney Store, If you face Shijo Dori, turn left and continue down Shijo Dori, looking carefully to your left. You should then see some shop windows full of zori and geta. Inside is the Zori Doctor.

Upon entering the store, I was approached by the lady you see in the photo. She, in Japanese, asked me if I need help. In Japanese, as best as I could, I tried to explain my situation, which was that I had one pair of broken geta, and a pair of zori that needed to be resized.

She sat me down at a desk and asked me what my shoe size was. I told her that I was a 41, which is true in most places, though I tend to go smaller if the shoe is wide. At first the lady didn't believe me. Then she poked her head around the table and looked at my hoof and let out a shocked exclamation. Indeed, by Japanese standards, I am a very big lady all over.

She told me how much I would have to pay, and to come back in an hour and forty five minutes. Which I certainly didn't mind. Kyoto in general is full of beauty. And Kawaramachi is easily the most ritzy and glamourous part of Kyoto. The surrounds have many beautiful boutiques, malls and eateries, so it is exceedingly easy to kill time there.

(A photo of some tabi, or split toe socks in a convenience store close to Kyoto Station. Taken by me, 2019.)

Throughout tourist areas in major Japanese cities it isn't hard to find casual tabi. These are special socks designed for wearing with zori and geta. The more colourful or intricate kind are usually only acceptable for wearing in casual outfits. For more formal outfits, you need to seek plain white tabi with seams. The highest levels of formality usually come with carefully tailored socks, immaculately white and with little clips on the cuffs for putting them on. Finding the more formal type in sizes large enough for me is, as you might imagine, really difficult for me. I did manage to find two synthetic, stretch pairs in my size in the Kiyomizudera Area later in my trip.

(A picture I took of one of the synthetic tabi I bought during my trip. 2019.)

After a time, I returned to the geta/zori shop to see if they had completed my request.

(The young man in the store works with such a deep look of seriousness on his face. I imagine he must take his work like Sisyphus pushing the boulder. Taken by me, 2019.)

Finally, my shoes were ready. They were so much more comfortable than they had been before, even if the more formal zori were still very uncomfortable compared to the geta. In any case, he does wonderful work, and I wholeheartedly recommend this place to any giant-footed kimono lady like myself.

As I left the store, all the staff stood in a row to see me off. It felt very odd, to have such dignified people reverence a little monkey like myself. I felt oddly like I was the river spirit in Spirited Away, exiting the bath house. But oh, my geta have never been so comfortable before, and I was proud to put them to good use right away.

(A selfie of my feet in their newly fitted geta, with tabi socks I bought in Daiso, 2019.)


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