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A New Thought for Minimalist Footwear from Japan

Now I'm a real code ninja...
About a month ago, I was bemoaning the fact that I needed some new shoes for work.  I could have just gone out to the local shoe store or department store and get a pair of inexpensive brown or black shoes to throw on (my office is business casual), but you could bet that the shoes weren't going to be the most comfortable things in the world, nor particularly good for the feet.  And to buy a pair of the currently available minimalist shoes like VivoBarefoot or something similar is in the $130-range, which I wanted to avoid for the time being.

However... I was watching some Akira Kurosawa movies and I noticed the footwear that some of the samurai in it were wearing (Yojimbo and Sanjuro, if you're interested).  And that led me to recalling some of the footwear I'd seen when I was taking martial arts when I was younger, particularly the Japanese shoes known as Tabi.

Tabi are traditionally Japanese workers' boots.  They're prized for their flexibility and the sureness of foot that the wearer has as they manipulate construction sites and the like.  Unlike the American equivalent, which are generally steel-toed boots, these boots for the Japanese worker allow the wearer to feel what's under foot and be sure of where they're stepping.  They're also worn by performers and the like, and they're frequently known as ninja shoes or boots because they're frequently worn by practitioners of that martial art.  They're lightweight, pliable, thin-soled, and very comfortable.

They have flexible rubber soles, cotton uppers, and they're split between the first toe and the other four toes.  This has the dual effect of allowing more sureness of foot by allowing the foot to spread out and also ensuring the foot doesn't slide around in the more relaxed fitting boot.  The most common style is a calf-high boot, but there are also ankle-high models.

I got a pair about three weeks ago, and they've been my footwear of choice since they arrived.  And they feel awesome.  There's so much feeling coming through the soles that you find yourself seeking out rougher ground simply to get the massage that comes with such a shoe.

I've found that I walk more smoothly in the shoes.  I'm not able to heel-strike like I was in the habit of doing with standard shoes (it hurts!), which leads to a more natural stride.  My feet aren't compressed into a space that is entirely too small with my toes jammed into a narrow tube.  I feel like I'm nearly barefoot most of the time, even more than I do with Vibram FiveFingers or VivoBarefoot shoes.

And the cost?  $30.00 a pair, in general - much less expensive than the above-mentioned footwear.  You do need to buy a few pairs of tabi socks (also split between the first toe and the rest), but even that isn't a huge expense:  I paid $15.00 for a six-pack of well-made socks.  And of course, you can keep wearing those with more pairs of tabi.  There are models in other colors besides black, and even some made for specific activities like running (though you have to be careful of sole thickness if your goal is minimalism).  They even have leather ones if you want them to be a bit more "formal" looking.

The downside?  Well, the only one I've come up with is how they look.  In three weeks, I've had about five people at my job actually notice them, as they're fairly unobtrusive unless someone's looking right at your feet.  So that's pretty much a non-issue for me.  Your results may vary, of course, depending on where you're wearing them.

Do I recommend them?  Yes, wholeheartedly.  They feel great, they're inexpensive, and they're available via and other places.  Try a pair out!

Rikio Fighter Black Jikatabi (Outdoor Tabi)


  1. Akira Kurosawa FTW! It's beyond awesome that you're wearing ninja shoes.


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