Tabi (a kind of split-toe-socks specific to Japan) (足袋)

A pair of tabi is a Japan-specific traditional item of clothing, and a kind of underwear worn on the feet. Tabi are generally made of cotton. A pair of tabi is used when wearing zori (Japanese sandals), geta (Japanese wooden foot gear) or setta (zori with leather used on the sole).
Therefore, the portion between the big toe and other toes of a tabi is separated (separation of the big toe.)

There is also a tabi called jikatabi that is made of durable cloth and a rubber plate is pasted on the sole so that it can be worn outdoors.

At present, approximately 80% of tabi produced in Japan are made in Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture. Its origin is that the production of tabi was promoted to support the finance of the province since around the early 17th century. Another famous place where tabis are produced is Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku.

Descriptions of "足袋" (tabi) appear in documents around the 11th century.
However, it is not known whether it indicated footwear similar to the present tabi, nor whether it was pronounced as 'tabi.'
Although the origin remains uncertain, it is considered to be socks called shitozu, which were worn by nobles in the Heian period, or leather socks, which are said to have been worn by hunters in that period. Tabi were initially provided with laces in the ankle, and the laces were fastened to prevent the tabi from slipping off.

It is said that the conflagration in 1657 (of the Meireki era) caused a shortage of leather, raising the cost of leather, and making tabi made of cotton used more widely. Corresponding to the wide use of cotton-made tabi, buttons instead of laces became to be used to prevent a tabi from slipping off. In present-day tabi, the ankle is fastened by hooking metallic parts called 'kohaze' on looped threads called "ukeito" (or 'kakeito'). This fasteners came to be used widely from the latter half of the Edo period to the first half of the Meiji period.

Kinds of Tabi
Leather Tabi
Tabi were originally made of the leather obtained by tanning hide, and no cotton-made tabi existed until the early Edo period. Leather tabi are durable, enable the toe to be protected, and are flexible, making foot movement easier. Therefore, leather tabi were mainly used by samurai in battle or in hunting with falcons. However, as the war era was ending, tabi gradually became to be worn as peacetime clothing as well. As cotton tabi were introduced, leather tabi became obsolete. Nowadays, leather tabi cannot be seen except in special cases. The yellow tabi used on the Kyogen stage (farce played during a Noh play cycle) (Kyogen tabi) were designed imitating leather tabi.

White Tabi
White tabi are mostly used together with formal attire or on the occasions of celebration or mourning. This tabi are not specifically intended for ceremonies or formal attire. However, while black tabi and colored tabi can be worn only with informal dresses, white tabi can be worn with informal dresses as well as formal attire. In particular, almost all tea masters, priests, Noh players, Kabuki players and entertainers as well as the persons concerned with the tea ceremony wear white tabi. Therefore, it is customary to call those persons 'white tabi' in general.

It is mostly not allowed, without wearing white tabi, to step on or enter Noh stages, Shosa-ita (board for shosa (the steps and movements of Kabuki and Noh actors)) and archery-training halls. On sumo rings, it is not allowed to wear any footwear other than white tabi, either. As known from these examples, white tabi are a symbol of purity so that they are treated differently from that of other kinds of tabi.

Black Tabi
These tabi can be used only by males with informal clothes. According to a theory, black tabi were made for economical reason because stains do not stand out on them. On the other hand, most samurai on duty in Edo wore tabi made of satin weave. Because of such backgrounds, there are many who dislike wearing black tabi. Incidentally, it is a myth or a quite special custom since the Meiji period that black tabi should be worn on mourning occasions. Primarily, regardless of celebratory or mourning occasions, only white tabi can be worn with formal attire.

There are dark-blue-cotton-and-black-sole-tabi, so called Karasu Tabi. With dark blue cloth used for the surface part and black cloth for the sole part, the tabi of this kind are used by the stage assistants dressed in black on stages so that the tabi (usually white) do not stand out when the kuroko moves.

Colored Tabi and Patterned Tabi
There are colored tabi and patterned tabi in addition to white tabi and black tabi. These tabi are ordinarily worn by females. Concerning males, only a few dandies wore these tabi in the past. However, nowadays, it is not uncommon that males select tabi of these kinds to match their clothes, just as females do.

Knitted Tabi
The tabi of this kind is made of flexible knitted cloth. The size of the tabi made of textile changes every one centimeter. On the other hand, the size of knitted products is set to S/M/L/2L/3L/4L, with larger allowances for these settings, to enable the flexible characteristics of knitted products to be used effectively. These tabi squeeze feet less than those made of weaved cloth, and it is one of their features that they give a feeling similar to that of socks. As these knitted products show foot shapes clearly, it was strongly considered that they were not suitable for being worn with formal attire in the past. However, nowadays, such a view has diminished slightly and tabi of this kind are used widely. Such knitted products are usually called Sutorecchi tabi. Furthermore, flexible materials such as tricot are also used for ' tabi covers', the products that are worn over tabi.

Materials for Making Tabi
Tabi are made of cloths of three kinds: a surface cloth, a back cloth, and a sole cloth.

Generally, cotton is used for all of the surface, back and sole cloths. However, corresponding to the introduction of synthetic fibers after the war, clothes with cotton and polyester blend have become to be used for making tabi, and tabi made of tricot, cloth using nylon fibers, have also appeared.

Based on the materials used, the tabi are classified into textile ones, such as tabi made of cotton, and knitted ones, such as those made of tricot. Concerning the size, the size of textile tabi changes every one centimeter because they are not elastic, but S/M/L/2L/3L/4L are mostly used for knitted tabi because they are elastic and each of them can be fitted for a range of foot sizes.

[Original Japanese]