There is a crisis happening today all around us. It is called modern footwear. Every time I walk past a “shoe mart” I can’t help stifling a yawn. If by modern we mean, cheap, unsustainable, and boring, then yes, “modern”. There hasn’t been anything really modern happening with today’s shoes since Nike’s waffle iron tread in 1974. That’s 41 years folks! 41 years of rehashing the same tired theme with the same old nylon, polyester, and plastic fantastic. 41 years of filling up the landfills and lakes, rivers and oceans, backyards and basements, with non biodegradable, petroleum derivatives. Does it matter that they are made in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, or Bangladesh in working and pay conditions that were outlawed in the United States around 100 years ago? Nope, just give me cheap and lots of it.
The solution is Waraji and Warazori. Warawhatyousay?
Waraji and warazori are straw sandals that were commonly used in Japan from about 2,000 years ago up through the Meiji Period, or around 100 years ago, though in some rural areas people continued wearing them much later. I understand some buddhist monks continue to wear them even today.
The difference between waraji and warazori is the former has bindings securing the sandal up to the ankle/lower leg making them suitable for everyday work and travel, whereas the latter are just like flip flops, or beach sandals so are better for more casual use.
Here are a couple pictures of some wara (straw) and warazori (straw sandals), taken with the Agfa Isolette lll, Acros (at ei400), and semi stand developed in Caffenol.
There is a pair of 500kg (1,200 lb), 4.5 meter long Owaraji (O meaning big) hanging at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. How big would the giant that wore those be?!
Now for the upsides and downsides..
The down sides:
- they don’t last as long as today’s plastic fantastic shoes
- your feet will get wet when it rains
- goats might like them and follow you around
- They don’t last as long as today’s plastic fantastic shoes. Everything is biodegradable – you won’t find them still in the soil or floating around in the Pacific Trash Vortex in 100 years time
- They are made from 100% sustainable materials
- Tried and tested- they have been used for nearly 2,000 years
- They look cool
Ok, looks like the upsides win, let’s get out there and start wearing waraji! Well, I haven’t tried them for any length of time yet so cannot hand on heart recommend them to you yet, but I will be on the lookout for some so that I can do some proper testing and report back to you:-)
You can see some being made on youtube here. Pretty cool I think.
PS. Anyone interested in a very good look at our use of 3rd world labour should watch this documentary by legendary journalist John Pilger.