Kurosawa Kirizai – a shop in Kitakata City where geta (traditional Japanese shoes) are made and sold – opened in 1912.
For over 100 years ago, the Kurosawa family have prided themselves on their careful use of only the highest quality paulownia wood – grown locally of course – for the construction of their geta.
What are geta?
Geta are lightweight traditional Japanese shoes (worn to this day) which look similar to flipflops or clogs. They are most often worn with casual wear, such as summer yukata, but shouldn’t be worn to formal events. If you have ever seen a photo of an apprentice geisha (known as a maiko), you may have seen her wearing geta.
Typically, 2 beams of wood – known as teeth – are fixed to the bottom of the geta. However, there are other styles of geta which have as many as 3 supporting beams, or as few as 1!
To the untrained eye, it is easy to think that the geta with 2 teeth look incredibly difficult to balance in, let alone walk in – but the shoes are surprisingly easy to keep your balance in! They’re also really good for keeping your feet cool in the hot, humid Japanese summers.
Another interesting thing about geta is that although it may look the base portion of the shoes are made identical shapes, they are in fact subtly different, so there is actually a left and right foot! There is also a huge deal of skill and experience that goes into being able to notice the subtle variances in each piece of wood.
Traditional Geta in Kitakata
Kitakata City was once well-known for its geta production. In winter time – when craftsmen had time to focus on producing a large reserve of their stock due to being snowed into their homes – locals used to see piles of geta, stacked up outside their respective shop. There were even competitions to see who could stack up the most!
However, as demand for geta dropped throughout and following the Showa era (1926 -1989 ) one by one, the businesses involved in this industry dropped in number, until Kurosawa Kirizai was the only shop left standing.
The Last Geta Shop in Kitakata
Kurosawa make a huge variety of geta – different shapes, sizes, designs, each carefully handcrafted with the requests of their customers in mind.
Despite the drop in numbers of those buying traditional geta – as opposed to cheap plastic ones – Kurosawa Kirizai are determined to keep this tradition alive, and to keep supplying their customers with the good quality shoes that they expect and have grown to cherish over the years.
Their motto is “live slow” – the concept being that, in wearing geta, you are able to be just a little bit more aware of the act of walking, and appreciative of the passing of time with each step.
During my visit, I couldn’t help but think that geta would make great a great gift to take home to friends and family (or for yourself!). They are lightweight, compact, and are very traditional.
They’re also super comfortable! I’ve bought ‘geta’ before online for a fireworks festival I attended a few years ago, but they were very cheap, and my feet paid the price! The material between my toes hurt so much after 30 minutes… but the materials used in Kurosawa Kirizai’s geta are so carefully selected that I felt very confident that I could wear them for hours with no problems.
I was so surprised by the variety of the styles of geta in the shop – and how many contemporary designs there were. Each pair unique, I was very tempted to buy a pair for myself there and then.
Geta of various sizes were on sale in the shop, but customers can also have geta ordermade to fit their feet – they even paint and dye the wood as per the requests of their customers.
There are many interesting and old-fashioned shops around Kitakata City, many of which are still home to those families who have continued their businesses for generations.
Although the times are changing fast, it’s a relief to know that there are some families, like the Kurosawas, who are determined to pass on their legacies and their traditions to the next generations. I highly recommend you stop by during your visit to Kitakata
Kurosawa Kirizai is open from 8am to 7pm, and is a short 5 minute walk from Kitakata Station.
There is a lot in Kitakata that can be appreciated best by car or bicycle, so why not rent a bike by the station and fill your day with sightseeing around the town?
Interested in more information about Kitakata? Why not take a look at this 1 day itinerary, or my previous blog on the area? There is also information about Kitakata on the Fukushima Prefecture Tourism Assocation’s website.
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