In Japan, “nuno zori” — room sandals made from cloth — are widely known as a handicraft of countryside mothers. In recent years, this style of footwear is regaining its popularity. Did you know that in Tokyo, there is a Tohoku-born store specializing in fashionable nuno zori?
To discover the charms and features of the nuno zori, we visited “MERIKOTI”, a specialty nuno zori store in Ryogoku, Sumida Ward. We found out that nuno zori are not only comfortable, but also eco-friendly! After reading this article, you’ll surely want to go to Ryogoku yourself to experience these room sandals!
What is a Nuno-zori?
Did you know that slippers, an internationally popular form of indoor footwear, was originally a culture born in japan?
In many places outside of the Euro-American countries, it is customary to take off one’s shoes before going indoors.
It is said that in Japan’s largely wooden housing and high precipitation rate, outdoor shoes were considered a cause of mold and decay when worn inside, and thus this culture of taking them off came to be. It was in order to cater for western visitors, whose habit was to keep their shoes on indoors, that the Japanese began to provide slippers as a form of room shoes.
Japan’s culture of slippers
Traditional flooring methods like solid wood and tatami are comfortable to the bare foot, but many Japanese homes today have adopted western-style wooden floors. This style of flooring feels sticky in the hot summer, and ice-cold in the winter. It simply isn’t comfortable to walk barefoot on for many people, most likely motivating them to adopt some sort of indoor footwear — whether that be room shoes, or slippers.
This is where we want to recommend nuno zori, as a new alternative to room shoes. These cloth sandals are known as a handicraft of many Japanese countrysides, and have been gaining great popularity for their many wonderful features! From here, we would like to give you a close look into the charms of nuno zori.
Features of Nuno-zori #1: They’re comfortable, and don’t constrict the feet
The greatest characteristic of the nuno zori, is that they’re shaped after the “zori” — a traditional sandal with a long history in Japan.
The most standard zori were historically made from grasses such as straw, and were widely used by farmers. Although they were eventually replaced by the wood-based geta sandals for being somewhat fragile and prickly, the zori were great in their ability to fit the foot comfortably without constriction. Surprisingly, they were great supporters of healthy soles!
Zori, made from grass and straw
Like straw would have been woven to make the traditional zori, cloth is woven to create the base of the nuno zori, to which the strap is attached to complete it. Their open construction won’t constrict your feet, and will keep them stress-free and comfortable as you walk around in them!
Features of Nuno-zori #2: They can be made from scrap cloth
Nuno zori can be made from unnecessary pieces of cloth at home, such as old curtains and t-shirts
All you need to make a pair of nuno zori is string to hold the base together, and pieces of cloth. That means, if you have any dispensable pieces of cloth, like old curtains and t-shirts, they can be given a new life as a pair of nuno zori! They’re a great, eco-friendly item that reflects the Japanese people’s spirit of reusing.
Features of Nuno Zori #3: They are easy to clean
Even if you’re just spending time at home, your feet tend to get dirty anyways. Nuno zori are great because just like clothes, they can be thrown whole into the washing machine! Any grime and odor that gets trapped in the cloth can be easily washed away, allowing them to be used for a very long time.
To Ryogoku: In Search of Fashionable Nuno-zori
The cute, minimalist storefront of MERIKOTI
Nuno zori are eco-friendly, convenient and comfortable. In Ryogoku, Sumida Ward, a specialized store exists with an abundant selection of designs and sizes of such nuno zori. Standing at a 5-minute walk away from Ryogoku Station of the Toei Oedo Line, is the modern, minimalistic storefront and cute wooden sign of MERIKOTI. This is a specialized nuno zori store run by Orange Tokyo co. ltd., a company specialized in the production and sales of textile products.
Look for the wooden sign that marks the spot
Many nuno zori with cute designs are displayed on the interior walls, and behind the counter, you will see a large shelf filled with the store’s abundant stock. The warm and colorful designs on the nuno zori make a strong contrast with the modern, concrete look of the building.
Shortly after entering the store, there is a shelf with sandals in front of you
We spoke to Ms. Abe, the store manager, about MERIKOTI’s nuno zori.
According to her, the store opened in September of 2014. She tells us that the store began because of an encounter between the store’s owner and an elderly woman from Japan’s northeast.
“The owner was told by an acquaintance in the northeast, to send over any unnecessary pieces of cloth. When the owner did, the scraps came back at a later date as a pair of nuno zori” she says.
MERIKOTI’s manager, Ms. Abe Fumiko
The owner was inspired by the intricate handiwork of the nuno zori. Based on the knowledge and techniques of northeast Japan’s elderly women, the production of the nuno zori line “MERI” began.
What surprised me was that these nuno zori, all made in consistent size, fit, and form, are not machine-made. They are all hand-made by craftspeople with plenty of time and attention. In a day, each craftsperson can only produce about 2-3 pairs, and their dedication to quality can also be seen in the designs and materials used.
The nuno-zori are made to a modern and cute aesthetic
Ms. Abe tells us: “For the designs, we have opted for ones with a warm, Scandinavian touch. Since our storefront is in Ryogoku, an area where Japanese culture is deeply rooted, we’ve embraced that too. While our colors are taken from a Scandinavian style, the designs themselves follow a traditional Japanese aesthetic.”
All of the nuno zori marry Scandinavian design’s warmth, and Japanese design’s delicateness, by combining the vibrant colors on the base and traditional Japanese patterns on the straps.
Aside from those displayed on the wall, MERIKOTI constantly stocks over 30 patterns of nuno zori in the store. The designs are all varied, and equally attractive. The “Ellen” model is adorned with a red rose-like corsage on the straps, the “Tove” carries a beautiful simplicity and maturity, and the cool colors of “Mika” make great gifts for men. Every one of their nuno zori is an equally fashionable, and eye-catching piece of footwear!
Their designs are ageless, and gender-free. Anybody can wear them!
Touch them, wear them. Experience the craftsmanship of MERI
As a loving wearer of MERI herself, Ms. Abe tells us that the thing keeping her hooked is the comfort.
She says “When I’m wearing nuno zori, my feet feel so free. Normal shoes feel too constricting afterwards! MERI uses an original soft, form-fitting material, and it feels like I’m always walking on comfortable mats.”
Ms. Abe is a loving wearer of the nuno zori. The ones shown are “Tove”
For those who want to see how they feel, there is a fitting space in a corner of the storefront. Sizes from S to LL are prepared for all sizes of humans, from children to grown men.
I, the writer, tried them on too. When I touched them with my hands, my initial impression was that they were a little hard. I could tell that the knits were tight, from the definite resistance in the material. However, when you try them on, they’re incredibly soft! Combined with the weight of your body, the slight resistance of the material creates the perfect, comfortable fit. Unlike slippers or flip-flops, the straps hug the feet quite widely, preventing them from hanging loose. This makes the wearing experience even better!
“It is up to you to decide what size is comfortable, but we recommend one that feels a little bit tight around the feet. If it’s too large, the fit will loosen” says Ms. Abe.
As you wear them, the MERI will break into your feet to create the perfect fit. They’re entirely machine-washable, and with some care, they’re said to last about 1.5 to 2 years.
Find your perfect size in the store fitting space
The original cord material is made in-store
The addicting comfort of MERI exists thanks to the original cord material produced just for the production of nuno zori. The machine that weaves thin strings together for the production of this cord is in the store, and the public is able to see it in action. This cord, woven to be wide and thick, is the foundation of MERI’s comfortable fit.
Visitors can see the machine in action, as it produces the cord
Strings are woven together to make a robust, flexible cord
Aside from nuno zori, the store also sells toe socks that can be used alongside the sandals. These socks are an original product, made in Japan in collaboration with a 60-year old glove factory in Aichi Prefecture. Although MERI can be used in the winter as is, using them in tandem with these socks will help alleviate the cold even more.
Enjoy dressing up your feet, with a wide variety of designs
These socks are sewn together from the toes, and not the opening. This eliminates the seam on the toe-side, making it even more comfortable.
Meeting the Hands Behind the Nuno Zori
We were told that on this day, a craftsperson of MERI was present only a 5-minute walk away, at Orange Tokyo co. ltd. We decided to visit them!
On the first floor of Orange Tokyo, there is a workshop space for nuno zori-making classes. 8 times a month, nuno zori making workshops are held here (Tuesday and Saturday of week 2 and 4; two sessions per day). For workshop participants who want to continue their nuno zori making endeavors at home, the original knitted yarn “Jonojono”, made by trimming Japanese knitted textiles, alongside nuno zori-making kits, are for sale.
Original knitted yarn "JonoJono"
Today, we spoke to Ms. Mita. She has 7 years of experience making MERI, and specializes in crafting the base component of the sandals (attaching the strap is a separate task, assigned to other craftspeople). She tells us that a 24cm base requires an astounding 12 meters of cord!
Ms. Mita, who specializes in making the sandal bases
A polyester string is hooked onto a special rack, and the MERI original cord is woven through here. Ms. Mita makes this look easy with her fluid movements, but she says that it took her a long time to be able to make even weaves.
“It’s difficult to keep your weaving of the cord at a consistent strength. Even if you manage to make one side perfectly, you still have to weave the other side with the exact same tightness” she tells us.
The cord is woven, each pull being made with a consistent strength
The beginning of the process is especially important, as it determines the outcome of the rest of the weaving. She tells us that she can now make half a pair in about an hour, but her masterful technique tells the story of countless trials and errors.
To make the final product robust, the weaves must be precise
MERI continues to pride itself in its hand-made quality, even if the quantity of production is low. This is because they cherish the knowledge that they have inherited. The story of MERI, found in the northeast, and born in Tokyo, is like no other, and cannot be reproduced by machines. From now on as well, their comfort and design will continue to deliver their warmth and beauty to our feet.
Make your Feet Comfortable with Hand Made Nuno Zori from MERIKOTI
While maintaining the freedom of traditional zori, nuno zori deliver warmth to the feet. Once you try them, you’ll never want to go back from their stress-free comfort. When you arrive in Ryogoku, be sure to stop by MERIKOTI to find your perfect-fitting pair.