Hello Kitty bullet train and sneakers

There are some things that are very much associated with Japan, like bullet trains and Hello Kitty. And now the two have come together. West Japan Railway Co. has just unveiled its latest Hello Kitty shinkansen, or bullet train. This pink and white train with a Hello Kitty theme throughout started service on 30 June and will run for 3 months, connecting areas in western Japan. You can see more about the train here.

 

Hello Kitty is a cartoon cat with no mouth and a ribbon over her left ear. She is from the Japanese company Sanrio, designed by Yuko Shimizu in 1974. Hello Kitty first appeared on a coin purse in 1975, and has a huge following, especially among Asian women. Hello Kitty is now on all sorts of merchandise and is worth billions of dollars to Sanrio.

Back in 2013, I bought my first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers. You can read about that here. I still have these sneakers and I still wear them. I have had them repaired once, and after 5 years, they are kind of falling apart. So I bought another pair of Hello Kitty sneakers.

Shih Yen’s first pair of canvas Hello Kitty sneakers back when they were new.

Shih Yen’s first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers has been repaired and has seen better days.

My first pair of Hello Kitty sneakers were made in China and they fit me well. This second pair of Hello Kitty sneakers that I recently bought are made in Japan and they are too small for me. I bought the biggest size that was available, but they are still too small for me.

Shih Yen’s latest pair of Hello Kitty sneakers, which are a bit small.

You would think that, after all my past experiences, I should have learned by now that Japanese footwear and socks for women are never going to fit me. I don’t know why I never seem to learn this lesson. It’s like I’m in denial that Japanese footwear is too small for me. So, again I repeat the same mistake. But I’ll still squeeze my feet into these sneakers and hope that the shoes will stretch with time.

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Japanese geta (下駄) part 2

The last time I wrote about Japanese geta was 6 years ago in this post. That’s a long time ago, and since I bought a pair of geta recently, I thought I would write about them again.

Geta is a traditional Japanese footwear made of wood, a type of wooden clog. It looks like a slipper with a thong (called a ‘hanao’) made of cloth affixed onto a flat piece of wood. On the bottom, there are usually 2 bits of wood, called ‘ha’ or ‘teeth’, to create a raised sole. These ‘teeth’ help to keep the wearer’s feet dry when it rains or if it’s muddy.

Shih Yen bought a pair of Japanese geta for men.

I have big feet for an Asian woman and Japanese women’s footwear is always too small for me. So I got really excited recently when I saw these geta on sale and in big sizes. When I looked closer, I realized why the geta were big enough to fit me. They are men’s geta, not women’s geta. It has been a very long time since I had to buy men’s shoes, but I bought the men’s geta anyway because I had the perfect yukata (summer kimono) to go with it. I tried to choose a men’s geta with a more feminine design in the thong.

Geta is traditionally worn with a yukata, or summer kimono. A yukata is made of cotton and is lighter than the formal kimono. It is not usual to wear socks with the geta when wearing a yukata. Geta can also be worn as casual footwear with regular everyday clothes. Despite it being made of wood, I find the geta to be a really comfortable form of footwear.

Shih Yen wears geta with a yukata.

Shoes in animated movies

I like writing, but I’m bad at promoting stuff after it gets published. So I’m going to do some quick promo of my latest publication. My most recent publication is in an anthology about the question of race in the USA. My story is about a Chicana (Mexican-American female) living in San Francisco. My story covers Mexican themes like food, the 15th birthday party and the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). You can read more about Dia de los Muertos in this post. The book was released last year around Dia de los Muertos. You can buy the book (available in print and e-book) here.

This month’s blog post is about shoes in animation, and there is a connection to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Late last year, a Mexican friend told me that I must go watch the Disney animation Coco. I vaguely knew that Coco was about the Day of the Dead, but when I watched it, I love that it was about a family of shoemakers. That came as a pleasant surprise and it was not something I knew about prior to watching the movie. One of my favourite scenes in the movie is one where the family is making shoes.

This scene below seems very Mexican to me, where the grandmother assaults a Mariachi singer with a sandal. The sandal, also called la chancla in Spanish, is sometimes used as an assault weapon or to discipline children.

 

In my opinion, the Japanese are the best at making animated movies. There’s even a genre called anime that is specifically related to Japanese animation. ‘Garden of Words’ (Kotonoha no Niwa) is one of my favourite animated movies with shoes in it. It is a love story that starts in the rain. One rainy day in Tokyo, a student decides to skip school to draw in a garden. He is a shoemaker, and in the garden he meets an older woman. He ends up making shoes for her. I think it’s a beautiful love story; you can see the trailer here.

 

One final animated movie involving shoes is the Disney classic Cinderella, from 1950. I think every English speaker will be familiar with the Cinderella story and the animated movie. Here is the ending to that movie.

My Melody ankle socks

I think it’s unfair how when you have a group of characters, one character always becomes more popular than the others. One example is on children’s television show, Sesame Street. Elmo monster, who made his debut in 1985, has become more popular than the other puppets. Personally, I dislike the Elmo character. I don’t like Elmo’s high pitched voice or the way he talks in the third person, and I can’t understand why he is more popular than other (in my opinion, better) characters. I prefer older Sesame Street characters, like Grover and Bert and Ernie, who have been on the show since the start in 1969.

An autographed photo of Grover, Shih Yen’s favourite Sesame Street character.

It’s the same with Sanrio characters. Sanrio is a Japanese company that manufactures lots of cute things, and Sanrio is the company that brought Hello Kitty to the world. Sanrio also has many other characters, not just Hello Kitty. But the other characters are not as popular as Hello Kitty.

I don’t have any problem with Hello Kitty, and I personally own many Hello Kitty products, including shoes. But I think it’s unfair that Hello Kitty should get all the glory. There are other Sanrio characters, which I think are equally as cute as Hello Kitty, and they seem to have faded into history. Hello Kitty made her debut in 1974 on a coin purse. There are other Sanrio characters from that same time period; and when I was young, I liked those characters more than Hello Kitty. These characters are My Melody, a cute rabbit and Little Twin Stars, twin brother and sister Kiki and Lala, who are stars and live in the sky.

Sanrio characters – My Melody, the rabbit with Little Twin Stars, Kiki and Lala.

A friend who knows that I like My Melody gave me a pair of My Melody ankle socks. I love the socks, but when I first saw them, I thought there is no way these socks are going to fit me. These ankle socks are meant for the Japanese market only, and they are probably meant to fit the average Japanese woman. Unfortunately, my feet are not the size of an average Japanese woman. On me, these ankle socks are more like heel socks! I still love the socks, even if they don’t fit.

Shih Yen’s My Melody ankle socks.

Attempting to wear My Melody ankle socks.

Promotional jandals

My friends and family will tell you that I’m a bit of a sucker for advertising-type promotions. I’ll buy things I don’t need just to get a free gift. There doesn’t even have to be a free gift. Sometimes I’ll buy things just for the chance to win something, or to enter a competition. The most extreme case was when I bought something I didn’t need, to win something that I couldn’t use. Funnily in that case, I actually did win, and I ended up just giving away the prize.

Currently, there is one shop here that has a promotion for V energy drink. Buy any 500ml bottle of V energy drink and get a free pair of jandals. Jandals is a New Zealand term for thonged sandals or flip flops. This term was believed to originate in the 1950s, an amalgamation of the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘sandals’, as the style of these sandals with thongs is similar to traditional Japanese footwear. Personally, I call this type of footwear ‘slippers’, as this is the term that I grew up with. The V promotion kind of made no sense for this time of the year, as it is now winter in the Southern hemisphere, and people will not want to wear jandals in the cold.

The V promotion - Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

The V promotion – Buy any 500ml bottle of V and get a free pair of jandals.

As I said, I’m a sucker for promotions. So I bought a bottle of V energy drink, even though I don’t even like the drink. Just so I could get a free pair of slippers that I’m not going to wear now in the winter months. I also don’t really like advertising for V energy drink on my footwear. But apart from that, these slippers are quite soft and comfortable. I just have to wait a few more months for warmer weather to be able to wear them.

Modern tabi socks (足袋)

On this exact date in 2012, I wrote a bit about Japanese tabi socks. I feel like revisiting this topic because I have now inexplicably found myself the owner of 3 pairs of tabi socks.

In Western culture it is seen as a major fashion faux pas to wear socks with sandals, but this look is traditional for the Japanese and they have been wearing socks with sandals for centuries. Traditional Japanese socks are called tabi and these are split-toe socks that separate the big toe from other toes. Tabi socks are worn with traditional Japanese thong footwear, such as zori and geta. The split-toe in the socks make it easier to wear thong footwear with socks.

A Japanese bride wears a kimono with formal zori and white tabi socks.

A Japanese bride wears a kimono with formal zori and white tabi socks.

Normally, socks can be worn interchangeably on either the left or right foot. It is the shoes that have a left or right side. It is the other way round with traditional Japanese socks and footwear. Because of the toe separator, tabi socks have a clear left and right side while the traditional footwear – zori and geta – can be worn interchangeable on either foot.

Japanese people have been wearing tabi socks since the 16th century. The peak in wearing tabi socks was in the Edo period (1600 – 1868). Tabi socks can be worn by both men and women. Tabi socks are normally ankle-length and the usual colours for tabi are black or white. White tabi socks are worn in formal situations, with the formal zori. Tabi socks are also worn in some Japanese martial arts, such as kendo and aikido, which have earned them the nickname ninja socks.

Shih Yen wears pink tabi socks with a cherry blossom motif. This pair of tabi socks is made from nylon and polyurethane.

Shih Yen wears pink tabi socks with a cherry blossom design. This pair of tabi socks is made from nylon and polyurethane.

Traditionally, tabi socks are made of cotton, but these days they can be made from other materials. I have one pair of tabi socks made of a nylon and polyurethane blend, which makes it feel like swimsuit material. My two other pairs of tabi socks are made from a polyester, cotton and polyurethane blend.

mens tabi

A pair of men’s tabi socks featuring a dragon and the kanji word for ‘dragon’ (龍)

tabi back

A dragon on the soles of these tabi socks.

Traditionally, tabi socks were plain and came in monochrome colours like black and white. These days, modern tabi socks are colourful and can have different designs on them. I have a pair of tabi socks meant for men, with a masculine design of a dragon on it, and the kanji word for ‘dragon’ (龍) on it. My other pairs of tabi socks are more feminine with feminine motifs like cherry blossoms on them. With modern tabi socks, the left and right side don’t even have to match, but they still make up a pair.

womens tabi

A pair of modern women’s tabi socks. The left and right side don’t even have to match.

Finally, if you need further evidence that tabi socks have become modern, none of my 3 pairs of tabi socks are actually made in Japan. All of them are made in China, even the pair that was bought in Japan, a gift from a Japanese friend.

Hello Kitty sneakers

I’ve been told that if I want to be a stereotypical Asian woman I should have cute charms (preferably featuring cartoon characters or soft toys) dangling from my cellphone and from my bag. If the charms come with a tinkling little bell, even better.

I do none of the above, but I did recently buy a pair of sneakers with Hello Kitty all over it. Hello Kitty is a cartoon cat made by the Japanese company, Sanrio. Hello Kitty was designed by Yuko Shimizu and first appeared on a coin purse in Japan in 1975. For some inexplicable reason, Asian females seem somehow genetically pre-disposed to be attracted to Hello Kitty. Some say it is because Hello Kitty doesn’t have a mouth and this gives her an enigmatic look. Put Hello Kitty’s image on anything and the product is sure to sell. Hello Kitty is worth about US$5 billion (£3.29 billion) a year to Sanrio.

In Singapore in early 2000, when McDonald’s Singapore launched a range of Hello Kitty plush toys in wedding dresses as their Happy Meal toy, this sparked a Hello Kitty frenzy. People queued for hours before the restaurant opened to get their hands on these Hello Kitty toys. People bought Happy Meals just for the toys and left the food, or even threw the food away. Fights broke out, and 7 people were injured when the crowd broke a McDonald’s glass door while queuing for the toys. This craze for a toy cat makes no sense at all. Singapore has again been gripped by Hello Kitty mania as McDonald’s Singapore was once again selling Hello Kitty toys in June. This time, police were even called in to one McDonald’s restaurant to mediate between two adults arguing over a Hello Kitty toy. Is that not the most ridiculous thing you ever heard?

Shih Yen's Hello Kitty low-rise sneakers.

Shih Yen’s canvas and rubber Hello Kitty sneakers.

When I told my friend that I had bought a pair of Hello Kitty shoes, she said, “You are X years old and wearing Hello Kitty shoes?” In my defence I said, “Hey, they make them in my size, OK. So that means it’s not for kids.” And Hello Kitty isn’t just for young children. You can get Hello Kitty car accessories, get married in a Hello Kitty theme wedding or fly with Eva Air on their Hello Kitty airplanes. Some banks also offer Hello Kitty credit cards.

I was really excited to buy a pair of low-rise canvas and rubber Hello Kitty sneakers in my size. I liked them so much, I went back and bought a pair of Mickey Mouse sneakers, but that’s a story for another time. Next month maybe?