In the main article, we discussed how shoe repair had been part of the vibrant circular economy 300 years ago in Tokyo, when it was called Edo.  During the Edo period (1602-1868), people wore geta or zori types of sandals, made of wooden soles and fabric thongs.

In the ukiyo-e “Woman Stolling Player of Kokyu” (1763-67), by Harunobu Suzuki [Public domain], you can see a woman, on the right, wearing a pair of black getas.  Geta has a wooden sole with “teeth,” which are one or two supporting pieces, perpendicularly attached to the back of the sole.  The woman on the left wears zoris, which has a flat sole.  A Zori sole could also be made of straw, rather than hard wood.  Both geta and zori have three holes on each sole, through which thongs are attached.

Just like many of us who are kind of obsessed with shoes,  the Edo people loved getas and zoris, which could be made by skilled artisans, using high quality materials to support the totality of fashion.

“Kiri” has been a wood species most appreciated as a material to make the soles.  It is light, sleek, smooth on the skin, has beautiful grains, and is relatively impermeable.  Great quality kiri came from specific regions, and are still highly valued today.  Due to its beautiful look, kiri is often used unprocessed, and people enjoy its natural texture.

Urushi has been widely used to paint zoris and getas.  It is a lacquer paint derived from poison oak tree sap.  The black pair in this ukiyo-e might have been finished with urushi.  The technique to apply thin layers of urishi paint on wooden soles is an elaborate process, and requires 3 to 6 months to complete.

Modern Geta, using natural kiri wood (left) and lacquered (right) (courtesy of Kagurazaka Sada: see below)

Getas and zoris are carefully designed to go along with different styles of kimonos, and for the different occasions they are worn.  And since Edo peopled love getas/zoris, they provide them with good care and maintenance.  There were dedicated geta/zori repairers, focused on different processes.

Although there are substantially less people who’d wear kimonos today, people who do so are very passionate about them.  Naturally, they are keen on choosing a good quality geta and zori, and they take good care of them.  Geta repair is still surviving as an important part of Japanese culture, in the current world of globalization and mass consumption.

Sadaaki Hino, the owner of a high-end select shop “Sada,” in Kagurazaka (above picture), Tokyo, has been repairing getas and zoris for his customers, for about 15 years.  Kagurazaka is a little town at the heart of Tokyo, that still maintains traditional refined “iki” culture (“iki” is a bit like “chic” in French).  A few local people still wear kimonos, including Sada’s customers.  Naturally, they appreciate Sada’s high-quality geta and zori line-ups.  The pictures in the previous section are some of his offerings.  One is made of beautiful natural wood, and the other one is finished with lacquer.

But why repair?  It’s most likely that Sada’s customers are pretty affluent.  They don’t need to repair their shoes in order to save money for a new pair.  But some of them do repair, nonetheless.  And an increasing number of customers are bringing back the pairs they bought years ago, for repair.  “They keep coming back to me when their shoes need mending,” says Hino, who once dedicated his time to become an “apprentice” to one of the oldest geta shops.  He was determined to learn traditional, authentic ways to fix getas and zoris.

Image courtesy of Kagurazaka Sada

This pair belongs to one of Sada’s customers, who has been wearing them for more than 8 years.  During those years, he had Sada mend the soles (supporting rubber parts) three times, and replace the thongs tree times.  The wooden sole got weathered and developed some chips.  And the color of natural wood has become more brown in color.  But those details are actually adding unique flavors to this pair, which definitely makes it special and irreplaceable.

“Geta and zori wear out based on the shape of user’s feet,” says Hino, “therefore you always have incentive to keep wearing the same pair. The longer you wear, the fitter they become.”  Skilled repairers can “read” how customers’ feet look, and adjust the teeth and thongs accordingly.  A good geta repairer is also a great shoe fitter.  Although shoes are fashion items, they also must be highly functional, because walking is such an important part of Japanese life.  But we all know that it’s not an easy job to find a pair that perfectly satisfies your needs.

And that’s why it’s precious to own a pair you’d want to keep as long as for 8 years.  “You sure have come long way…..glad to see you again,”  Hino welcomes back the pair once again, amazed to see the transformation:  every time he sees the pair, it’s different.  It’s gained more history.  And they are much better.

One of his shop’s policies is to repair products infinitely. He is committed to give a new life to products that went through wear and tear.  It’s interesting that his statement says “give broken products a new life,” but does not say “bring it back to the original status.” (Right: tools used for geta repair. Image courtesy of Kagurazaka Sada)

And it’s probably not because it’s physically impossible to restore them to their original status.  After spending so many years together, having gone through many memorable moments, the products and the owner end up developing a special bond.  At that stage, “restoring original status” becomes less relevant.  People just want to repair their “buddies” so as they can stay together longer.

Products that truly fit, help, and enlighten your life can become more than a product.  It is simply a great joy to be able to find such products in your life, and to be able to repair them.

Repair is also about renewing your relationships.

Sada is located in a small town called Kagurazaka, and it’s at the heart of Tokyo (in Shinjuku Ward).  It used to be a “red light district,” in the early 20th century, and still maintains chic, classic, with a traditional atmosphere.  Just to be clear “red light districts” in Japan, back in those days, also served as the epicenter of culture with restaurants, bars and shops, where people like affluent patrons, politicians, businessmen or artists would frequent.
(Image: Kagurazaka by OZAKIX [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr Creative Commons)

Sada’s owner, Hino describes Kagurazaka as a place where old things and new things blend naturally.  It’s a lively place where residents enjoy the relationship and services the neighborhood offers.  Local culture probably resonates very nicely with Sada’s repair policy, which is to give a new life and new relationship to old things.

And it’s probably not a coincidence that the architect Kengo Kuma lives in Kagurazaka.  He finds the uniqueness of Tokyo in “weak, or ambiguous boundaries.”  Unlike other large cities, Tokyo often sets boundaries without using walls, fences or other hard, explicit devices typically employed by modern architecture.  Instead, observes Kuma, something a lot more ambiguous and subtle can be used to loosely divide things.  Kagurazaka is exactly like that.  Since it’s an old town, everything is made small (based on humans’ body size).  New things are built next to old things.  Commercial, industrial and residential buildings are mixed.  Old people live next to the younger generation.  Everything is loosely connected, rather than divided with explicit boundaries.

And as a resident, Kuma feels that Kagurazaka’s additional attractiveness comes from the fact that it maintains old things without “freezing” them.  Compared with Kyoto, which focuses on “freezing” traditional things so they don’t become diluted or polluted.  Kagurazaka is fluid and flexible.  There are many small factories and workshops operating right next to traditional places, which creates a messy, but lively atmosphere.  Inspired by Kagurazaka’s co-mingling organic architecture, Kuma designed several projects in Kagurazaka.  Subscribe for our newsletter to receive updates on articles about Kuma’s projects in Kagurazaka.

If you have a chance to visit Tokyo, or if you live in Tokyo, visit Kagurazaka and Sada!

神楽坂 貞
Kagurazaka Sada

Kagurazaka 6-58, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
TEL/FAX 03-3513-0851
Business hours 12:00~19:00(Sun/Holidays 12:00~18:30)