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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 woven-straw sandals called waraji were once an essential item for travelers in Japan. Kami-waraji 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.

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.”

Practical footwear: Kami-waraji sandals keep feet dry and comfortable in a hotel or on an airplane.
Practical footwear: Kami-waraji sandals keep feet dry and comfortable in a hotel or on an airplane.

It was a box-manufacturing company in the Edogawa Ward 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.

Eco-shoes: The soles are made from five layers of strong corrugated cardboard, and the straps are 100 percent cotton. The sandals have a nonslip underside.
Eco-shoes: The soles are made from five layers of strong corrugated cardboard, and the straps are 100 percent cotton. The sandals have a nonslip underside.

Even Watanabe was amazed by the positive response that the Kami-waraji received. All 200 of the non-Japanese 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.

Chikako Shimizu contributed the text for this article. Visit kamiwaraji.jp for more information.

For more insight into Japan’s culture, arts and lifestyle, visit int.kateigaho.com.

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