Waraji (草鞋) (IPA: [w̜aɺadʑi]) are light tie-on sandals, made from (usually straw) ropemaking fibers, that were the standard footwear of the common people in Japan.
Waraji resemble other forms of traditional Japanese footwear, such as zori and geta, with a few key differences. They were historically the simplest form of outdoor footwear (sandals of any type were not worn indoors). Waraji, due to their cheap and rustic nature, are considered to be a very informal type of footwear, and are not worn with formal kimono. They are typically not worn with tabi socks, and are woven so that the wearer's toes generally protrude slightly over the edge of the shoe.
Waraji were once common footwear in Japan. There are records of waraji in the Heian period (794–1185 CE), with the possibility of waraji having existed before this time. In the Edo period (1603–1867 CE), geta were worn in cities, but anyone making a long journey wore waraji.[better source needed] They were also worn for energetic or prolonged labour. Their light weight and grip were valued.
In modern-day Japan, waraji are worn by Buddhist monks, and by some fishers of mountain streams. Zori and geta are worn far more commonly by the general population.
In constant use, rice-straw waraji only last three or four days, or roughly 24 hours of active use and so people would have to make about a hundred pairs a year, on average, if they wore them constantly. As waraji could be homemade from cheap materials, and many people learned how to make them in childhood, that was not a problem. Waraji could also be cheaply bought. Travellers carried a supply and discarded them when they were worn out.
Rice straw is the common and traditional material for weaving waraji. Long straw (not broken by the processing methods) must be beaten to soften the fibers before use. Most other ropemaking fibers can also be used, such as cotton, hemp, palm fibers, or even strips of rag. The straps of the waraji might be covered, often with paper. Cardboard soles are used on some modern commercial designs.
There are a number of different ways of tying waraji straps; even historically, there was no standardised method of attaching the shoes to one's feet.
Traditionally, waraji were donated to temples as offerings for healthy feet and protection on journeys. This practice, while now less common, is still followed. More modernly, giant waraji ('o-waraji') kept in temples are touched as a charm for tireless endurance in walking.
[from volume 2, page 8] The simplest form of outdoor footwear is the waraji, a sandal of coarse rice-straw, some what shorter than the foot, to which it is firmly tied by means of two straw laces (often covered with white paper). These laces issue from between the first and second toes and pass in turn through a couple of loops at each side, up over the foot, through the loop which forms a heel-piece, and back again to be tied over the instep. The waraji are used by men for energetic and long-continued work, travelling, etc. Their length of life is only about twenty-four hours, but they are very cheap (about a farthing a pair) and supplies of them are carried by travellers and thrown away when worn out...For ordinary use, such as leisurely walking on hard, dry ground, the zōri is employed. This is a sandal of fine rice-straw matting and normally has no separate sole. But varieties of it, made of woven rushes of various kinds or of bamboo-sheath, are commonly soled with coiled hemp-rope (asaura-zōri), with wistaria-stems, (fujiura-zōri), or with wood in lateral sections (zōri-geta or itatsuke-zōri). A superior variety, known as setta, has a raw-hide sole with (sic) iron heel-piece.The zōri is kept on by means of two thick soft cords (hanao) of twisted cotton or paper, covered with leather or cloth, issuing from each side near the heel and uniting with a short, thinner piece which passes between, and is gripped by, the first and second toes. Rush zōri with very thick tapering cords of straw-rope covered with white paper or cotton are known as fuku-zōri. In modern times the hanao do not come so far back as in former days; the sandal itself is also a little shorter, instead of being slightly longer, than the foot(translator did not translate the full book text, but from the acknowledgements of vol 1 it sounds as if some of his translations might be incorporated into the work. Volume 1 came out in 1919, volume 2 in 1920. Note the work is in the public domain, therefore the fulltext is not copyright)