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Tabi

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Tabi

A pair of tabi socks.
Woman in early Showa-period clothing wearing tabi; note the red cloth thong between the big toe and other toes.

Tabi (足袋) are traditional Japanese socks. Ankle-high and with a separation between the big toe and other toes, they are worn by both men and women with zori, geta, and other traditional thonged footwear. Tabi are also essential with traditional clothing—kimono and other wafuku as well as being worn by samurai in the feudal era. The most common colour is white, and white tabi are worn in formal situations such as at tea ceremonies. Men sometimes wear blue or black tabi for travelling. Patterned and coloured tabi are also available and are worn most often by women, though they are gaining popularity among men as well.

In contrast to socks that, when pulled on, fit the foot snugly because of their elastic weave, tabi are sewn from cloth cut to form. They are open at the back so they can be slipped on and have a row of fasteners along the opening so they can be closed.

Jika-tabi

Antique Japanese (samurai) armoured tabi
Construction workers, farmers and gardeners, rickshaw-pullers, and other workmen often wear a type of tabi called jika-tabi (地下足袋 tabi that contact the ground). Made of heavier, tougher material and often having rubber soles, jika-tabi resemble boots and are outer footwear rather than socks. Like other tabi, jika-tabi are toe-divided so they can be worn with slip-on thonged footwear. Shōjirō Ishibashi, the founder of major tire company Bridgestone Corporation, is credited with their innovation.

Though slowly being replaced by steel-toed rigid-sole construction shoes in some industries, many workers prefer them for the softness of their soles. This gives wearers tactile contact with the ground and lets them use their feet more agilely than rigid-soled shoes allow: for instance, people who traverse girders on construction sites like to know what is under their feet, and craft practitioners such as carpenters and gardeners additionally use their feet as if they were an extra pair of hands, for example to hold objects in place.

Modern versions

Contemporary tabi socks—socks with a separation between the big toe and its neighbor to allow wear with thonged footwear—are also available. This reflects the number of people who still prefer to wear zori and geta, especially during Japan's hot, humid summers.

A related item are toe socks, which have five separate compartments; these are called gohon-yubi no kutsushita (5本指の靴下, five-toe socks) in Japanese.

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