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Buying Choos in Tokyo May 16, 2006

Posted by fukumimi in Fashion, Japan.
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There was an article on the Nikkei website about Jimmy Choo opening a store in Tokyo, at the new Omotesando Hills complex (it apparently opened in Feb, so I don't know why the article is featured on the site now).

I suppose Japanese Sex and the City addicts are overjoyed that they now have access to the full Choo lineup, not just the shoes.

Clearly I am not going to be seen wearing any of Choo's shoes, but they are very nice to look at on a nice pair of feet. I do wonder if the shoes are tailored for Japanese feet, which do tend to be of a different profile than western feet on average. (typically Japanese feet are wider and flatter)

Given that most of the shoes are of the pointed toe variety, without the right profile it looks like a recipe for hallux valgus which must be the biggest single turn off for me in a woman.

Pointed toes and tapered box toes do give the impression of a longer profile which is advantageous for people with smaller feet. I am partial to shoes with a longer profile myself for that reason.

An interesting note about shoes in Japan. Customs duty for imported shoes is expensive. Duty is payable at upto 60%. This is a pretty high tariff rate, and the historical reason for this high rate is allegedly because the leather goods industry in Japan was traditionally largely populated by "disadvantaged" sections of society, which are still deemed to be worthy of special treatment. Whilst discrimination against such peoples (either based on ethnicity, disability or other factors) is notably absent for the most part in everyday Tokyo soceity (or so it would seem to many people, who are blissfully unaware of history of their neighbourhood), it appears a lot more engrained in provincial and rural Japan (especially in west Japan). It would seem to me that the protectionist measures are not the best way to solve this problem, but integration of discriminated sections of society unfortunately is not achieved overnight.

Who are these sections of society? Let's just say that because of the Buddhist roots of Japanese society, mainstream society has held professions dealing with the slaughter of animals in low respect, and these people were labelled as belonging to a specific caste in feudal Japan (the caste system being a tool used by the authorities to regulate society, in accordance with Confucian thinking).  In post war Japan, the same jobs continued to be done by the decendants of members of said caste (whilst the caste system had been abolished, the discrimination did not disappear) and also by ethnic minorities who were also discriminated against and had access to limited opportunites. 

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Comments»

1. Gen Kanai - May 16, 2006

I tell people about the meat packing plant right by the Konan-guchi of Shinagawa-eki and they are incredulous. If you work at Shinagawa Inter-City, you’ve smelled that place on hot summer nights when the wind blows in a particular direction. It’ll be interesting to see if they can move that plant- it’s got to be a political hot potato.

2. Kurt - May 16, 2006

fascinating, the bit about shoe prices. jeez, by rights Ag Minister Shoichi Nakagawa and all those tussling with the US about beef and BSE should also be burakumin, no? 😉

i’m curious about your phrasing: “the leather goods industry in Japan was traditionally largely populated by “disadvantaged” sections of society”. I guess this is sort of a chicken or egg question, but was it a case that the leather industry was one of the few places so called burakumin could work in, or was the fact that folks were working in these industries what led to their marginalization? Or a mixture of both?

3. fukumimi - May 17, 2006

Gen,

Regarding the meat packing industry in Shinagawa, that part of town was where these smelly businesses were located exactly because it was a warehouse district built mainly on reclaimed land, on the other side of the big Kokutetsu (now JR) railway yard, far away from people who might complain about the smell. With the redevelopment of the railway yard and the encroachment of business and gentrified residential developments, it will indeed be interesting to see if these businesses are pressurised to relocate elsewhere, even though the smells were around before the complainers. I would think that it might make financial sense to relocate as land prices are pushed up in the neighbourhood allied to the zoning laws which for the most part don’t have much to say about commerical/industrial zones being taken over by offices and residential developments. Of course one would perhaps need to think about the logistical impact of such a move, the Shinagawa location is where the meat packing industry is concentrated in Tokyo because the central meat market is there. The whole industry would have to up and move, but it wouldn’t make sense to move too far from the city. Perhaps relocating to the north side of the bay (as is proposed for the fish market) makes sense.

4. fukumimi - May 17, 2006

Kurt,

I think most of the people most fervently opposed to freeing up beef imports are the meat farmers, rather than the meat packers and abattoir owners (which can benefit as local logistical partners for foreign meat producers as well as for domestic produce), and Nakagawa is more representative of the farmers what with his diet constituency being up in Hokkaido, even though he was born and raised in Tokyo.

The chicken and egg question is interesting, and given the poor quality (or analysis) of historical records, it is probably difficult to say which came first definitively. The disdain for handling dead animals comes from religious beliefs, which surely predates any attempt at formalising the caste system. Therefore it seems likely that the people who were in that business were those at the bottom of society (because these were the only jobs available to them), and when a more formal caste system came into place these people were locked into the social class which resulted in discrimination for generations to come.

The area worst hit by the Kobe ‘quake and fire was known for its shoe industry. There were accusations that the fire department were slow to respond to calls for assistance from this area, the implication being institutionalised discrimination. The area did suffer a huge amount of fire damage, but at least part of the reason was the construction of the buildings and the crowded nature of the area. It could be argued that this in itself is illustrative of the relative poverty of the area, which again would be blamed (at least in part) on institutionalised discrimination (or at least no effort to address the existing discriminatory beliefs held by many people which prevented social mobility) which resulted in something which might have been called a ghetto of sorts.

5. Kurt - May 18, 2006

well, of course I was joking about Nakagawa but your point reminds me that there has been precious little commentary, as far as I can see, in both the Japanese press as well as the foreign press, about what a convenient red herring this BSE stuff is. I realize hell would probably freeze over before the Japanese press (and public) acknowledged paying extortionist prices for their homegrown beef (and don’t get me started on rice!), but why the foreign press is just following along beats me (or am I just not reading the right reports?)

appreciate the extended commentary re: the caste system, as I’m appreciating your blog in general. keep up the good work!


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