The sandals keep feet dry and comfortable in a hotel or on an airplane. 

Arty, eco-friendly Kami-waraji cardboard sandals

Text by Chikako Shimizu

Corrugated cardboard is light, breathable, environmentally friendly, and fully recyclable. Innovative Kami-waraji sandals utilize this versatile material in a twist on a venerable Japanese standby. The wovenstraw sandals called waraji were once an essential item for travelers in Japan. Kamiwaraji resemble traditional waraji, but their soles are made of paper (kami) cardboard. The soles are printed with beautiful designs to create fun sandals that are also works of art.

Kami-waraji were created in Hanegi, a verdant area of Tokyo. (The penguin in the background is a reference to Penguin, the company that produces them.) Note that Kami-waraji are not intended for outdoor wear.

Brand marketing expert Masayuki Watanabe, who created the sandals, explains how they came into existence. “In 2014, our company, Penguin Inc., was working for the Japan Tourism Agency to develop Japan branding to promote inbound tourism. We got to meet about 400 overseas visitors, and were delighted to hear them praise Japanese culture and products as ‘cool’ and ‘cute.’ We wanted to make the ultimate souvenir for them, so we came up with Kami-waraji.”

It was a box-manufacturing company in the Edogawa district of Tokyo’s historic old town that gave shape to this innovative idea. Of course, the company had never made footwear out of cardboard, but it worked steadily together with Watanabe, refining the durability and comfort of the product. For the cherry blossom, koi fish, and other distinctively Japanese designs, a silkscreen printing process was used to produce detailed, eye-catching images.

(From left) Ha-no-monyo: This design (mon’yo) is based on traditional Japanese leaf (ha) patterns. Nishiki-goi: Koi carp are popular as ornamental fish worldwide. In Japan, they are symbol of success in life. Hamon: A charming combination of maple leaves and ripple patterns. Mokume: A unique wood-grain pattern covers the entire sole. Sakura: The elegant cherry blossom is a beloved motif in Japan.

Even Watanabe was amazed by the positive response that the Kami-waraji received. All 200 of the foreigners he surveyed in Tokyo loved the sandals. A number of companies that viewed samples ended up ordering custom designs, and Penguin became very busy.

“We were very happy, but at the same time, that delayed the sale of Kami-waraji as souvenirs,” says Watanabe. “Right now, the only shop that has them in stock for retail sale is a store by Osaka Castle called Osaka-jo Honjin. We’ll be starting more sales from this spring.” Check the website below for the latest information on prices and availability.

Penguin’s communication designer and creative director, Masayuki Watanabe, devised Kami-waraji. This footwear brings together tradition, eco-friendliness, and art.


Kami-waraji produced by Penguin Inc.
* Three sizes are available: small (22.5–24 cm), medium (24.5–26 cm), and large (26.5–28 cm).
Please note that actual sizes may vary slightly.
All are ¥3,000.

Osaka-jo Honjin
Miraiza Osaka-jo 1F, 1-1 Osaka-jo, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Tel. 06-6755-4314. 9 AM to 5:30 PM

This article is an excerpt from a
Kateigaho International Japan Edition 2020 Spring/Summer.



2021 Spring / Summer

Inside Japan’s West