Reconnecting With Our Senses

A pair of Geta with growing moss.
A pair of Geta with growing moss

Growing moss on a pair of wooden rectangular platform? No, this is not another pot plant invention, but rather a redesigned pair of the traditional Japanese footwear, known as Geta. This particular sandal and more variations were created with a specific aim by the professional plasterer Shuhei Hasado.

Shuhei Hasado was born in 1962 in the Takayama city located in Gifu prefecture. His natal town is situated in a valley enclosed by high mountains, and growing up in what sounds like a peaceful and natural scenery, this influenced and inspired him later on. At 18 years old, Hasado started training as a plaster craftsman and 3 years later, he became the winner of the Japanese Plaster Olympics. Hasado did a lot of commercial construction with modern materials but decided to stop in his mid 30’s as he felt that he needed to work with natural clay and return to the traditional Japanese plastering. Thus, he started experimenting with natural clay mixed with sand and rice straw. From that, Shuhei Hasado developed a distinctive style of constructing walls with natural resources, which didn’t leave the audience unimpressed. Some of his famous work includes The Earth Table, The Phoenix Wall, The Peninsula Tokyo and, the subject of this article mentioned earlier, the Geta. (Tada K. 2010)

Geta exhibited in Tokyo (Haptic Exhibition)
Geta exhibited in Tokyo (Haptic Exhibition)

The project Geta was designed for an exhibition launched in Tokyo in 2004 by the designer Kenya Hara. The exhibition, HAPTIC – Awakening the Senses, was about making designers think less of the appearance of their objects, such as colour, shape and size, and more about how these objects would be sensed. While the appearance of the objects is certainly important, the main aspect was to convey the idea of how people could perceive things with their senses. (Hara K. 2004)

As someone inspired by nature and working mainly with natural materials, we can guess why Shuhei Hasado decided to create something connecting human beings and Earth. The plasterer states ‘I exhibited Geta because I felt that footwear understands the earth better than anyone.’ (Tada K. 2010). Indeed, before the invention of shoes, people were walking barefoot and our feet were the one part of our body that was constantly in touch with the ground (Ho K. 2014). For that reason, the bottoms of our feet were sensitive and this helped primitive man to distinguish between the types of soil and find out a variety of information from the ground (Toildrops 2013). Since we started wearing shoes, we have to admit that we kind of lost this relationship with nature and Earth. Having moss, wood, clay and other textures on the Geta forces our sensory nerves at the base of each foot to work again (Toildrops 2013).

A pair of Geta with pine needles
A pair of Geta with pine needles

From my point of view, the Haptic Geta sandals are very beautiful, thoughtful, emotional and a harmonious series. The use of the Geta, in a certain way, relate to all of us as we all wear a kind of footwear to walk; however, it addresses particularly the Japanese audience and perhaps tries to reconciliate the audience with their culture in this globalization era. The design here surpasses functionality and the very way we interact with the Geta is transformed (Yobé V. n.d). As Valérie Yobé, a PhD in semiology, mentioned in her article (pg 4, para 2), we are pushed to engage with this design, to fidget it, and to value it; the function of the Geta is changed into something that we observe, touch and feel. Thinking about the contexts of the design object, Shuhei integrated the micro and the meso to come up with a design that would tickle our senses and also bring back memories of our last barefoot walk, or that time when we would run reckless and barefoot, only enjoying the moment. In a way, I believe that the Geta also challenges the norms and the ratchet effect, by allowing us to feel again—although in a different way—how it is to walk barefoot experiencing diverse environment.

Quite likewise, French designer Marie Rouillon created a series of cup that would feel different when touched. The aim was to bring back our tactile experiences and make the audience realize that visual data alone is not sufficient to get the full grasp of the design and the world around us (Lee J. 2011). The cups were made so that some would bend, distort, be heavier, and also have different textures, such as wood, metal, clay, cotton-like fabric, and so on. Once again, the design is not about the functions of the cup but mainly about the feelings that the different cups evoke. The design also plays with the idea of fidgeting and engages the audience to touch, analyse and compare the cups. The idea of having objects which plays with our senses can be very thoughtful and poetic as they forces us to see beyond the functionality of the objects; we fidget with the objects, and give them more value than their original form, we also associate memories and other cultural or traditional factors with them.

'Daily Haptics' Exhibition
‘Daily Haptics’ Exhibition