There was something that had been positively mystifying me since my arrival in Japan. I wasn’t the only one who was confused, either. My fellow expat friends had also noticed that an unusually high percentage of Japanese girls and young women appeared to be pigeon-toed. What’s more, many of them looked as though they were doing it on purpose!
As the months passed, from one city to the next, we saw female feet of all ages turned in, attempting to walk around stores and catch trains using only the tiniest of inverted steps. To compound the apparent difficulty of making it from point A to point B, most of these girls and women wore towering high heels.
It is common for Westerners to be puzzled by this practice, known as uchimata, because we have been raised to view the condition only as a medical problem. Among many Japanese people, however, turning in your toes and taking small steps is seen as the most ladylike way to walk. It is considered to be infinitely more delicate than walking with your feet turned out.
After doing some research, I decided to broach this potentially awkward topic with my Japanese colleagues. At an informal interview session, they revealed their cultural conviction that uchimata is more attractive than “walking like a man”. They were referring to the way I walk, in case you were wondering. As for the ubiquitous high heels, they went on, sexy shoes are another important component of the super vulnerable and feminine appearance they aspire to cultivate.
Unfortunately, they said, it is impossible to wear such shoes and walk in this manner every day. Since they have to maneuver around a workplace and get places quickly, it is not practical for them to move slowly and turn in their feet. They do, however, like to revert to this style when dressed in traditional kimono. Kimono robes are not sealed in the front by zippers or buttons or strings.
So, by walking “like a man” one runs the risk of exposing everything that is hidden underneath. Although the mystery has been somewhat solved, I still do a double take when I see a particularly painful looking young lady hobbling beside me in the mall. I have to remind myself that she is probably just as perplexed by my tendency to wear unsexy sneakers in public and take the stairs two at a time. www.somewherethesunisrising.com