Some call them “ninja shoes”. Others refer to them as “split-toe shoes”. You may have come across these shoes with a curious design that cuts off the big toe from the rest of the toes, deviating from the typical image of covered shoes. These are jikatabi, one of Japan’s traditional footwear. 

The roots trace back to tabi, socks that have been worn in Japan since hundreds of years ago. Meant to be worn with traditional footwear such as the zori and geta, they feature the split-toe design so they can fit nicely into the thonged shoes. Originally made from leather, a shortage of the material in the 1600s saw a shift to using cotton for tabi socks. A variety of colours and designs were then developed, but white remains the preferred colour for formal occasions, with the kimono.

jikatabi production
The production of jikatabi shoes

It was in the early 20th century that the Japanese started adding rubber soles to the tabi socks to create the jikatabi. With the rubber soles, the tabi socks can now be used as a footwear on their own, where “jika” means “direct” in Japanese, referring to how these shoes can be worn directly on floor surfaces. The extra grip the rubber-soled jikatabi provides, coupled with its durability, quickly made it a popular choice among the working class, especially within the farming and construction industries. 

But don’t let the long history of the jikatabi fool you into thinking that they are only good for traditional getups. Luxury fashion brand Maison Margiela has been pushing out their iconic tabi footwear since the late 1980s, and sports brand leader Nike has integrated the split-toe design into their Air Rift series. It is easy to style them into your daily outfits, especially with the modern designs from brands such as SOU・SOU from Kyoto, Japan.

For the everyday casual

Everyone needs a pair of white sneakers in your collection, and canvas tabi sneakers are the perfect subtle twist to this wardrobe staple. Wear them with a flowy top and raw hem jeans to look put together effortlessly.

Split Toe Tabi Sneaker/SO-SU-U Kon
Split Toe Tabi Sneaker Ecru/SO-SU-U Kon

JPY 9,570

For a chic office style

If you’re looking for something that takes you from office to party, go for a pair of leather tabi flats. Suitable with everything from dress shirts to satin skirts, these leather sandals from SOU・SOU have dainty ribbon straps that can be worn either up or down at the back, giving you the freedom to decide on how you want to complete your look.

SOU・SOU x Kikkabo Leather Tabi

Claw hook SOU・SOU Kikoromo x Kikkabo/Red

JPY 42,000

For days you’re feeling colourful

Thinking of going bold with colours? Reach out for printed tabi shoes and your favourite summer floral dress for an outfit that will brighten even the cloudiest of days! Fold down the tops for an extra dash of colour.

Festival Split Toe Tabi Shoes/Chrysanthemum
Festival Split Toe Tabi Shoes/Chrysanthemum

JPY 10,120 

Or when you want to show your love for Hello Kitty

Bonus: Fans of Hello Kitty, rejoice! SOU・SOU currently has a collaboration series with Sanrio’s iconic cat — sport cute and sporty in one style with these canvas shoes.

Split Toe Tabi Shoes/Hello Kitty x SOU・SOU Tsukumo
Split Toe Tabi Shoes/Hello Kitty x SOU・SOU White

JPY 9,350 

(Product photos from SOU・SOU)