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Topic : Japanese military footwear
In the prints included in this online exhibition a variety of "things" can be seen – the uniforms worn by the officers and men of the Japanese and Chinese armies, their footwear, equipment and weapons…. Looking closely at these "things" gives us new impressions both of the Sino-Japanese War and of the individuals involved in it. The same "things" vary depending on which country they were made in and there is a wide range of ways of depicting them. Comparison of these can lead to new discoveries.
Let's take a closer look at the feet of the Japanese soliders.
● How are they depicted?
So we can see from the prints that Japanese troops did not always wear military boots. In the army infantrymen fought in tabi and straw sandals, while in the navy sailors wore tabi or went barefoot. The combination of tabi and straw sandals was traditionally Japanese but why, when they had adopted Western-style uniforms, did their footwear lag a step behind? The tabi and straw sandals were provided by the army and were regarded as official military equipment.
So how was this footwear supplied to the troops? Let's look at some relevant documents from the archives.
● How are they recorded?
- Reference Code： C06060080800
- Title： 26 February．Report on purchase of shoes for 5th Division
This is a telegram sent by Lieutenant General Nozu Michitsura, commander of the 5th Division Hiroshima Garrison, to the Minister of War Ōyama Iwao on 26 February 1894 – i.e. before the China and then Japan began to station their forces in Korea in response to the outbreak of the Donghak Peasant Rebellion. It states that despite reductions in the budget there is still a need for "straw shoes" (waraji) and that preparations were being made to purchase them from contingency funds. This document shows that in the build-up to major military action preparations were underway to provide straw sandals for the troops.
- Reference Code： C06021813400
- Title： Provision of straw sandals for noncommissioned officers in the specially accommodated unit, from 4th Division
This is another document about the provision of straw sandals for the military. It is from the Army Ministry authorising the supply of 1,667 pairs of straw sandals and tabi to the 4th Division for use by non-commissioned officers and lower ranks of the special units (military units formed temporarily during times of war). Dated 20 December 1894 it allows each man to carry 1 pair of straw sandals and tabi for use in emergencies from which we can infer that the figure of 1,667 roughly represents the total number of non-commissioned oficers and lower ranks. The 4th Division was later sent to the Liaodong Peninsula in China to guard Japanese occupied territory.
- Reference Code： C06021702900
- Title： Inspector of Field Operations re supply of 50,000 pairs of tabi for the 2nd Army
This document dated 1 December 1894 relates to the supply of tabi (Japanese socks). It is from the Army Ministry to the Inspector of Field Operations allowing the provision of 50,000 pairs of Waraji kakesashi tabi 草鞋掛刺足袋 for the 2nd Army. This probably refers to robust tabi for use with straw sandals specially strengthened with layers of cloth and tightly sewn to prevent damage to the parts which come into direct contact with the straw. So it appears that at the same time as they were supplied with straw sandals, as we noted above, the soldiers were also given these specially adapted tabi to wear with them.
- Reference Code： C05121576400
- Title： Donations of straw snow boots from Akita Prefecture
We have seen how soldiers went to war wearing straw sandals and tabi supplied by the army but in winter, especially in the battlefields of north-east China with its freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls, the usual waraji were not enough. This document sent in September 1894 by the Governor of Akita Prefecture to the Under-Secretary of the Army records that an appeal had been made throughout the prefecture to make and donate 10,000 pairs of straw snow boots within 60 days. These straw snow boots were probably similar to those still used in north-eastern Japan – for example fukagutsu (深沓), a type of straw slipper with covered toes or yukigutsu (雪靴), a boot woven from straw – but the precise details are unclear. Whatever form they took, it is clear that, as winter approached, large quantities of straw footwear for use in snow were supplied by residents of snowy regions of Japan and sent to the troops on the battlefield.
- Reference Code： C06021797300
- Title： From the Inspector of Field Operations asking the Supply Depot to prepare blanket-lined takajō-tabi
- Reference Code： C06021827900
- Title： From the Inspector of Field Operations asking the Ujina Branch Freight Factory to prepare blanket-lined tabi
These two documents relate to tabi for use in cold weather. Reference Code：C06021797300 is authorisation from the Army Ministry (dated 25 November 1894) of a request from the Inspector of Field Operations for the supply depot at Ujin to provide 110,000 pairs of blanket-lined takajō-tabi as the 1st Army made preparations to move into snowy conditions. These takajō-tabi (literally "falconer's tabi") had stitching on the soles to strengthen them so they could be worn in direct contact with the ground and these blanket-lined versions were clearly meant to keep out the cold in winter. Reference Code：C06021827900 was written a month later on 27 December 1894 and records the preparation of an additional 100,000 pairs of blanket-lined takajō-tabi. It also asks for them to be made using thicker blanket or, failing that, two layers of blanket so that the tabi can still be used even when they get old and worn. During the Sino-Japanese War, Ujina played an important strategic role as the port for Hiroshima, which was the site of the Imperial General Headquarters. From Ujina large numbers of troops and quantities of supplies were transported to the battle front. Presumably the blanket-lined tabi mentioned in these documents were also despatched from here in due course to the soldiers fighting in the cold regions of the war zone.