Making Cloth Zori ( nuno-zori, 布草履)- a perfect gift for Respect for the Aged Day, or for anyone who appreciates fine traditional foot-wear!
By Avi Landau
They are attractive, comfortable, nostalgic, and are said to help prevent the onset or progress of senilty. Zori ( traditional Japanese sandals) made of cloth. What could possibly be a better gift for an elderly parent or grandparent on Respect for The Aged Day ( this year on Sept. 21st)? Especially if they are handmade by the giver, with plenty of love and affection!
When I heard that some of my friends would be getting together just for that purpose ( making zori as gifts!), I jumped at the chance, and asked if I could go along as well ( despite the fact that I am ALL THUMBS!). And amazingly, a couple of hours later, I was admiring a beautiful pair of cloth zori that I had made myself ( with plenty of assistance from my skillfull and patient teacher Asako Seo!)
Zori are a type of traditional Japanese footwear which were usually made from some sort of plant material- straw, reeds, corn husks, bamboo bark, etc. ( as Buddhists, most Japanese did not have shoes of leather). However, zori were also made from strips of left-over or used fabric.
In farming families, women probably spent most of their free winter hours, weaving zori ( and other things) out of various materials.
As I mentioned before, zori are believed to have a stimulating effect on the brain as they put pressure on certain TSUBO ( traditional pressure points) at the bottom of the foot ( they are not completely flat soled, as they have a braid which runs down the center of the sole- like the blade of an ice-skate, and thus exert a unique pressure on the feet!), and interestingly, they are said to be best when they are too small for your feet and your heals hang out over the back end.
When I got to Asako-San`s workshop, she had already prepared variously colored strips of fabric which we could choose from. These pieces of cloth would make the soles. We then picked out our choice of rope which would be the sandal straps.
When Asako-San showed me the technique- so cleverly simple- I was reminded of the technique that Yoshiro Yaguguchi-San used to weave his straw O-Bon decorations ( which I have written about in an earlier post).
Two loops are formed with rope, and the fabric is then woven tightly through. When one strip of fabric is finished, you just wrap a new strip onto the end of the old one and carry on.
Three quarters of the way through, you set in the strap, which has been made by twisting some rope. When you`ve reached the length you want you then pull on the open ends of the rope loops to tighten it all up.
Of course Im making it sound too simple. I would never been able to make such a nice pair without the help of Asako-San who made sure I didnt make any major mess-ups and put on the final touches.
I left Asako-San`s workshop feeling that not only were zori good for the wearers brain, but that the process of making them was good excercize ( both for the hands and the brain!), as well!
I also decided, looking at my handiwork, that I would be back to make some more NUNO-ZORI- one of Ibaraki`s (and Tsukuba`s) living traditions- that are good for the brain, to boot !
Here is more on Yoshiro Yaguchi`s hand-woven O-Bon decorations: