Big Shoes in Tokyo


"I wonder if they have my size?"

On yet another wonderful shopping expedition with Mrs. Expat last week (yes, she does read these posts), she mentioned something that I had never noticed before. As we were walking home, she mentioned that she had noticed a large number of Japanese women who seemed to have purchased shoes much too large for their feet.

Being more of a knees to neck type of expat man (aren’t we all?), I had never noticed this before. Of course, the female of the species is geared to notice the competition (not you, honey; no one can compete with you!). However, on reflection, I did remember a disproportionate number of young ladies who seemed to have mistaken their mother’s shoe’s for their own.

As an engineer, I can’t leave a puzzle alone; it’s just the way we are. I had to get to the bottom of the Big Shoe Mystery. After delivering Mrs. Expat home, I went in search of an answer. I polled my friends, (well, the guys who were sitting next to me in TGIF’s last night) and they came up with some explanations:

The first explanation was that Japanese shoes come in three sizes, small, medium, and large. This is supposed to fit every Japanese woman from the petite city girl to the large hoofed farm dweller. Obviously, it will sometimes occur that Ms. Petite will find the shoes she loves available only in the clodhopper size. Torn between fashion and comfort, she will opt for fashion. Ms. Clodhopper, on the other hand (poor soul) will not be able to wear Ms. Petite’s fashionable shoes no matter how much she squeezes. This will result in a large number of women wearing fashionable but large shoes.

Wow! They Carry All Three Sizes!

Next, another fellow imbiber opined that a high class Japanese woman, in her search for the latest fashion, will purchase a pair of stylish European or American shoes. She will only be able to find women’s fashion in sizes that, to a Japanese, are larger than large. Being larger than large is a boon to Western men, but a bane to Western women. As we round eyes know, American and European women have big feet. I won’t dwell on the comparison between feet and other body parts, but you know what I’m talking about. In any case, the high class Japanese woman has to make do with the smallest “Big Shoes” she can find.

"Those are Big Shoes!"

And lastly, another of the group had an even more outlandish explanation. He surmised that the Big Shoe phenomena was an attempt by Japanese women to key into a common Japanese fantasy; namely the “Koonago Mystique.” Koonago translates roughly as “Shrinking Woman”. He explained that a large subset of Japanese men have active fantasies about shrinking women and control over them. As evidence, he showed us a website on his cell phone called:

His theory is that local women, perhaps unconsciously, wear “Big Shoes” to excite their men. Unfortunately, he could find no one in the bar to agree with him. We did agree to not drink with him anymore.

So there you have three explanations for the “Big Shoe” phenomena. Feel free to offer up your own theories in the comments section.


  1. Dee

    I am also an Asian and I would agree that most Asian women does purchase big shoes. Not that our feet are big, but because most of the sizes available (fashion-wise) comes in big sizes. This goes especially true if you wish to purchase shoes that comes from Milan, New York, and the other fashion capitals of the world. This is probably because, these shoes are designed to fit the feet of western women.

    Just like to share a little trivia about Asian Shoes/feet:
    > Many years ago, Asian women (particularly in China and had later spread in Japan), had their feet bound so they’ll get tiny feet – also referred as “Lotus feet”. This is because, men during that time find women with tiny feet as attractive. They say, this is to emulate the natural tiny feet of the favored concubine of a prince. This was eventually stopped however due to its negative effects.

    > A geisha’s shoes is called a “Geta”, it resembles a combination of a clog and a flipflops. It is worn during rainy and snowy seasons to keep one’s feet dry. Women who can carry very high Getas are considered attractive (just like how sexy women with high-heeled stilettos walk), thus Geisha’s perform with very tall Geta called “okobo” on. The higher, the better. And according to a Japanese superstition, breaking the thong on one’s geta is considered very unlucky.

  2. Dari

    Well, interesting explanations. How come then that it is near impossible for a western women with an average feet to find any decent and fashionable shoes in Japan?

    • Phil

      Hello Marire, Recent research by my wife shows that there is an even bigger size than the standard. It’s called “Queen” size and is between a ladies 7 or 7 1/2. Not all stores carry the larger size, and the ones that do carry it are expensive. They can be found in Tobu.

  3. Steve

    Hi, currently in Japan on vacation I’ve noticed this BIG shoe ‘thing’ too pointing it out to my wife. I’ve noticed too that it’s not just women! Men too seem to wear bigger shoes or have trodden down the backs.
    We wondered if it was to make getting shoes on and off easier in temples and Ryokans etc.