Text and photo by Grigoris A. Miliaresis
Even though we see in human civilizations convergence tendencies –a result of globalization and the constantly increasing communication and exchange of stimuli- transferring ethical or aesthetical models from one culture to an another is a risky proposition and it’s better to be performed with extreme cautiousness and without broad generalizations. Still, I don’t think I’ve never heard any Westerner, even among those who are attracted to Japanese women to the point of fetishism, to find charming one of their most conspicuous characteristics, especially in the ages between 20 to 35-40: the almost permanent inward turn of their toes, what is commonly referred to as “pigeon-toe” in English and as “uchimata” (内股) i.e. “inner thigh” in Japanese. Especially when they walk and especially when they walk wearing high heels (which in Japan isn’t necessarily limited to evening dress) the sight is so unnatural that borders on the comical.
The theories about the origin of this phenomenon are divided into two camps: the one wants uchimata to be a product of an aesthetic choice coming from the time when women wore kimono on a daily basis (and there is a logic in this since the tight wrapping of a kimono practically forbids big steps and makes this type of walking almost obligatory) while the other sees it as an actual malady and attributes it to the loosening of the hip and knee joints that comes from the awkward “W-sitting” on the floor during childhood. Both are legitimate theories since, on one hand many young Japanese women find uchimata cute and effeminate (and occasionally over-accentuate it) and on the other, this type of sitting is very common among kindergarten or elementary school girls and parents and teachers rarely correct it.
The recipients of my “Letters” might have noticed that I avoid taking a critical stance against the things I see around me in Japan; this comes less from “cultural correctness” and more from my reluctance to judge a society and a culture in which I’m just a guest. In the matter of uchimata though, I’m willing to make an exception because, regardless of its origin, it is something that is proven to be harmful (women who walk and sit this way often present with medical conditions when they reach their 50s and 60s) and it reinforces a stereotype about femininity that is rather counter-productive for 21st century Japan, that of the awkwardness and weakness of the woman in contrast to the (strong) man. Not that any criticism of mine has any effect: the chances any commentary by me or any other non-Japanese has to get listened to, taken into account and change anything are insignificant: if something is crooked, in their feet or in their society, the Japanese will change it only when they decide it themselves –from almost all standpoints I can’t really blame them for that.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.