When I left for Japan, I had all my belongings in a backpack and two suitcases. That didn’t leave a lot of room for frivolities, so things like my “action” figure of Jane Austen, Shakespeare shot glasses, and discography of The Monkees had to stay behind. I also decided not to pack a pair of high heels. Why waste room on torture devices? Unfortunately, every once in a blue moon there is an occasion that calls for heels. About eight months into my life here, I decided I ought to buy some just in case.
Little did I know, this decision would send me on a proverbial wild goose chase. I actually believe catching a wild goose blindfolded would have been far easier. I was suddenly part of a perverse fairytale in which I was Cinderella, scowering the kingdom for the shoe that fit the foot. “But Shana, how can this be?” you say. “There are literally millions of high heels sold in Japan.” Yes, true, but almost none for any foot above a size 8.5.
In America, I’m average. Average height, average feet. Depending on the shoe brand, I can range from 8 1/2 to 9 1/2, but in Japan a whopping 26 centimeters is enough to get you laughed right out of the shoe store. And I was. At least ten times. I wanted to give up after the second store, but Andrew persisted, since men are the only ones who get to enjoy the sadistic thing we call women’s fashion anyway. At first, I thought that all the large shoes had been purchased by “fashionable” young Japanese girls. The current style in Japan is to hobble atop tall high heels two sizes too large and walk pigeon-toed in an attempt to look like a sexy toddler. Not only is this sadistic, but just plain dangerous. I imagine that the practitioners of whatever medical discipline that repairs broken ankles must be well-off here.
While this craze is disturbing, it is not the reason for the large shoe mass extinction. Shoe shops simply don’t stock anything above a 24.5, and even with the “short Asian” stereotypes, I find this hard to swallow. I don’t see many Japanese women that are much shorter that I am, ok that’s a lie. Yes, I do, but I also see plenty of natives who are much taller. For some baffling evolutionary reason that I won’t pretend to understand, they grow smaller feet. Like Barbie, they have adapted a way to walk without falling over due to disproportionate measurements. That was also the first and last time that Asian women have been compared to Barbie, you’re welcome.
Walking from store to store, being rejected, in a strange way I felt…special. Well, especially motivated to kick over their display cases with my oversized feet. It’s not enough to have the curse of blonde hair, I now have this to deal with?! I suppose the upside is the next time a passerby isn’t looking where they’re walking because they are too busy staring at my “not black” hair, I can just stick out a gargantuan toe and trip them…Yeah, or I could just learn to say “Staring is rude” in Japanese…
Is there a silver lining here, anywhere? Fortunately yes, this story has a “happy” ending. I am lucky to have a Japanese friend living in Tokyo who speaks perfect English. She can search all the Japanese websites for the “size plus” stores (actual name) that cater to those of us tragically born with the condition known as “not Japanese-sized.” These stores serve lots of actual Japanese clients with this same condition. She found a store in Ikebukuro called Ladies’ Kid. I found the name obvious (who else’s kid could it be?) but the store was fantastic and the proprieter was beyond helpful.
With my gracious friend as translator, I picked out a nice pair of black heels, which the salesman proceeded to custom fit to the millimeter each shoe seperately, since he knew that all feet slightly vary between our left and right. He shaved and trimmed special inserts which he manuevered into just the right spaces for a perfect fit. All became right in the fairytale world as I was truly Cinderella this time. He even made me extra sets of inserts for my other shoes, and told me I was normal. Japanese Prince Charming, he has a very lucky girlfriend who has the same size feet as me.
Do I relish the idea of having to do all my shoe shopping in Tokyo? No, but at least it’s an excuse to see my friend!