Tabi (足袋?, literally "foot bag") are a traditional form of Japanese socks. They go either up to the ankle or to mid-calf and separate the big toe from the other toes. They are used to wear geta or zōri to complement the traditional kimono or yukata.
Unlike "European-style" socks, traditional tabi are not elastic but made of cotton with a thicker sole, also of cotton. They are slipped on from the back and closed with a metal fastener system. This sole is due to the fact that one takes off one's shoes when entering Japanese houses, so tabi are also used as slippers as indoor shoes.
Nowadays, there are stretch tabi made of elastic fabric without back closure, or even tabi socks, which are western socks with the big toe separated.
Tabi are mostly white in color, especially for formal occasions. However, sometimes men wear black tabi, and women wear various colors or patterns. They are often worn with kyahan (traditional leggings). In the 16th century, when imported cotton was very expensive, only the richest people wore such tabi, the others being content with leather tabi, black or putty colored.
They are still worn today with the kimono or keikogi in several schools of ninjutsu.
Jika-tabi (地下足袋?, literally "tabi for the land"), of more recent existence, are similarly shaped shoes made of thicker, stronger cotton fibers with a rubber sole. These jika-tabi are mainly worn by construction workers, gardeners, rickshaw pullers, etc. It was also the only footwear worn by firemen.
Tabi socks are worn, especially in the summertime, by both men and women with zōri sandals, geta or similar footwear.
White tabi are used in formal situations such as tea ceremonies and are also essential with kimonos or similar traditional costumes. Men sometimes wear blue or black tabi while traveling, while tabi with more garish colors or printed patterns are primarily worn by women.
Tabi are used in Japan by traditional dancers, actors and taiko drummers. In addition to traditional clothing, they are also used by practitioners of martial arts (karate, kendō, kenjutsu, kyudo and iaidō).
In addition, according to Shiatsu theory, wearing tabi brings benefits to the back, spine and digestion due to the presence of acupuncture meridians located between the two fingers.