Okobo are very tall wooden sandals/clogs worn by maiko (apprentice geisha). The hanao (thongs) on the sandal have different colors according to the maiko’s status: red are for newer maiko, while yellow are for those who are just about to become geisha. Thanks to a lucky find on eBay, I am now a proud owner of a pair of these special shoes!
Mine (seen above) have red hanao and are made out of black-lacquered wood. There are two types of okobo- plain wooden/natural finished ones and black-lacquered. Maiko wear lacquered okobo during the summer season, while the plain ones are worn during the winter season. (My okobo are not ones that would have been worn by maiko, however, as they are a few centimeters too short. Maiko okobo are 11cm tall; mine are about 9cm.)
This is what the bottom of okobo look like. They are hollowed out in the sole to make them weigh less and to also provide a place to put the rope ties of the hanao, which as you can see are tied in a knot underneath. The golden caps near the top on the sloped part of the okobo are called maegane, and they cover up the knot where the front of the hanao is secured. (These metal covers are also used for geta.)
I also own a pair of smaller okobo, also known as pokkuri. They are also black-lacquered and have a tatami (straw) top. They are much smaller height-wise, and so are not the type worn by maiko. You can see that the black lacquer has chipped from being worn…black-lacquered okobo pick up and show dents and nicks more easily than the natural-finished ones. The maegane covers on this particular pair have come off. They are decorated with a lovely hand-painted design of bamboo and what I think is a stylized sparrow.
The terms “okobo” and “pokkuri” are both onomatopoeia for the way that these shoes sound when they are walked in. (They can also be called “bokkuri” and “koppori geta”) The tall ones are traditionally only worn by maiko and the shorter by young girls for Shichi-Go-San. However, it is now becoming more common to see them with furisode and fashion shoots, such as those seen in Kimono Hime, a high-fashion kimono magazine. However, most of the time when okobo and pokkuri are used in this way it is with a very youthful-looking, fashionable outfit. They are not something you’d wear, for example, with houmongi or iro-tomesode. (Both formal, “mature” outfits) One might wear them if they are going for a fun, funky style, or trying to achieve a retro Taisho-era look with long sleeves and bold colors and patterns.
Okobo are generally very expensive…the first pair cost me about $90 USD with shipping. However, one can find them at low prices…usually when a seller on eBay has no idea what they have. This was the case with the second pair. I spent only $25 USD including shipping for them. (Which was quite the steal! Especially since that pair was also sold with a pair of older tatami geta)
I am very glad to have been able to win this pair of okobo, and plan to wear them with this kimono in a very “haute couture” style photoshoot, reminiscent of Kimono Hime shoots.