About three decades ago, newspapers reported the closing of the final shoeshine concession at Narita International Airport. Demand had been drying up, the reporter wrote, because more Japanese -- following a worldwide trend -- were wearing casual footwear when they went abroad.
Now Nikkan Gendai (May 8) follows another emerging trend, the combining of sneakers -- used to mean casual sports or athletic shoes -- with conventional business attire.
"I noticed that young staff at our company wear sneakers when they go out to make customer calls," a 44-year-old acquaintance told the reporter. "They justify it by saying 'They're more comfortable when walking.' I guess I'm a bit old fashioned, but..." He left the sentence uncompleted but it was easy to see he doesn't approve.
Last February during a festival for supporters of the Vissel Kobe J.League soccer team, two Spanish players, Andres Iniesta and David Villa, appeared wearing business suits with sports shoes on their feet, which set off a debate over whether this was a lapse in social manners.
To people in North America and Europe, of course, combining such footwear with business suits has already become an established practice.
"The wearing of sneakers with business suits first appeared among businessmen in New York during the 1990s," says fashion critic Yoshifumi Tsujimoto. "It became fashionable along with other 'crossover' styles, like wearing blue jeans with a blazer or sports coat, or suits made of denim fabric, all of which proposed a challenge to the status quo.
"Up to about 10 years ago, the wearing of leather footwear was still regarded as obligatory in many European countries, particularly the UK and Italy," Tsujimoto continued. "But now it's become common to see business suits combined with athletic shoes."
The use of rubber in shoes dates back about 150 years, having first appeared around the mid-19th century. Prior to that, leather was the most commonly used material. (Unless you want to count wooden clogs.)
"Initially people of the time looked upon the dropping of pocket watches in favor of timepieces worn on the wrist, or use of a belt around the waist instead of suspenders, as violations of the dress code," Tsujimoto added. And even now some look upon with disfavor when they see young salarymen wearing bulky Casio G-Shock watches on their wrists, or back packs combined with business suits.
To better accommodate the wearing of coats with a back pack, a style called ankon (short for the English "unconstruction"), which removes shoulder padding, has become more popular of late.
Tsujimoto says most Japanese still draw the line at deviations from the conventional when it comes to weddings and other kinds of formal events, but believes that a trend toward more casual dress accurately reflects "the style of the times."
"Up to the first 30 years of the 20th century, Western clothing styles were largely a continuation from what had been put in place in the 19th century," he remarked. "Things gradually began to become more casual after World War 2. When it comes to both clothing and social manners, I'd say we're in a period of transition now, and I suppose over the next 10 to 20 years we'll see major changes."
At some point in the new Reiwa era, the writer supposes, people will look back on the days when wearing of business suits with leather shoes was seen as obligatory, and ridicule it as a quaint old custom.© Japan Today