KIKUSUI HENRO HOUSEShoesby Hiroshi Kushima
(translated by David C. Moreton)

What kind of footwear do present-day pilgrims use?

Footwear is an important part of the equipment needed for walking pilgrims and consideration should be taking in choosing what is best. For example, when one walks in shoes that do not properly fit, friction will occur and one will suffer from blisters. In my case when I walked I noticed that there were many others who were wearing sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes. As well, it seems that some wear sandals, rubber sandals, or even the traditional jikatabi or waraji (straw sandals).

Hiking boots

Sneakers and leg pads

Straw sandals

There is a mixed opinion as to which is better, sneakers or lightweight hiking shoes.

Being a walking pilgrim tests onefs endurance ability and even though one travels along the 'pilgrim path', approximately 90% of the journey will be made on asphalt. Thus, not lightweight hiking shoes, but soft sneakers will put less of a burden on onefs feet.

On the other hand, when one is walking the steep mountain paths, said to be the 'place where pilgrims fall down' (henro korogashi), lightweight hiking shoes are thought to be better because they offer support for the ankle and have a sturdier sole. As well, when one carries a load of around 5-10kgs, the soles of sneakers rub away and one can no longer use them.

The Lack of Ideal Footwear

There was someone who at first walked in sneakers but after one week had many blisters and realized that the gear was too heavy and that sneakers were not good, so that person got trekking shoes sent from home.

Yasuda-san who participated in his second pilgrimage in the summer of 1999 prepared shoes and thick socks recommended by "Aruke Aruke Kyokai", however, on rainy days his feet became swollen and he got blisters. Walking on asphalt on clear days, it seems that rubber zori and sport socks were most effective. The zori (sandals) had about 2cm of rubber and were good for the soles of the feet where there were few bumps on the path.

[added April 22, 2001]
As well, there are countless shapes and sizes of feet and I think there are even a few who ask for 'specially ordered' shoes to be made. One can repair to some degree onefs shoes and advice from Tao-san can be seen at "Shoe Repair."

In my case

My shoes

I have not been able to compare different kinds of shoes thus I cannot choose what is best and do not have a strong opinon on what kind of footwear is most appropriate. I feel that it is not like a pilgrim to spend a lot of time trying to find the most ideal footwear and going on the journey with the most up-to-date gear. I would like to introduce the footwear that I used.

The word 'caravan shoes' is no longer used, however, my shoes are from the Grand King series from the Caravan company. Recently, the product category of trekking shoes and walking shoes has emerged and various products in different versions from sneakers to hiking boots are being sold. The shoes that I used belong to this category. The soles of my shoes are made from rubber and are flexible. As well, I put a flexible insole at the heel.

There are hiking boots with steels clips used for climbing rock places; however such stiff shoes are not appropriate for being a pilgrim.

No matter what shoes you use it is necessary to have enough room to move your toes around inside the shoes while wearing socks. Perhaps it is more important to consider that type of socks than the size of the shoes.

[added Sep. 24, 2001]
During my pilgrimage in September 2000, I wore the original model of 'ECCO Walker' provided by Maggie Shoes (A shoes shop in Saitama Prefecture). They are made from GORTEX so they are waterproof and have good ventilation. They are white so one they fit in with the style of a pilgrim. However, they are made from leather so after wearing them for the first few days rubbing against the heel and other parts of the foot will occur. My feet are now used to these shoes, so even in summer I do not get blisters and during the rain my feet stay dry making them better than the 'Caravan' shoes described above.

But a there are points regarding the compatibility between your feet, shoes and socks that most people will not be satisfied with. A woman I met in 2001 summer said "when I walked the pilgrimage in March I hard a rough time dealing with blisters. However, in August despite wearing the same shoes I did not have any blisters." It seems that there are still unknown points regarding the "science of blisters."

(translated by David C. Moreton)

Glossary TOP Copyright (C)1999-2001 Hiroshi Kushima / (C)2004 David C. Moreton