The Japanese footwear known as tabis (TAH-bees), literally translated as "footbag," are commonly worn on the feet inside the traditional Japanese house. Yet it is more than just a pair of socks. Generally made of either white cotton or silk, they fasten at the ankle by means of a flat hook. They have reinforced soles called unsai-ori that prevent slipping on wood floors and help them stand up to heavy use.

Tabis are Japanese socks, usually white, specifically designed to fit traditional Japanese shoes like the zori, or flip-flop like sandal shown here. Reproduced by permission of © .

Tabis are specially designed to accommodate the traditional Japanese shoes, geta (clogs) and zori (flip-flops), both of which have a thong that fits between the big toe and the second toe. They are almost always white or dark blue and, until recently, were almost always made of cotton twill, especially for martial arts and performances of traditional music or dance.

Tabis work in harmony with the Japanese environment, both natural and architectural, while providing a cushion for the thongs in the sandals. They coordinate with geta and zori to protect the clean, tatami mat floors of the home and keep the kimono hem above the street. They also continue the Buddhist tradition of avoiding leather for items of dress because of Buddha's disapproval of killing animals.


Japanese Costume Through the Ages. Tokyo, Japan: Tokyo National Museum, 1962.

Kennedy, Alan. Japanese Costume: History and Tradition. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.

Minnich, Helen Benton. Japanese Costume and the Makers of Its Elegant Tradition. Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle, 1963.

[ See also Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Geta ; Volume 2, Early Asian Cultures: Zori ]

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