Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Calls for a stiletto revolution for Japan’s ‘waddling ducks’

High heels give Japanese women confidence and poise, says etiquette teacher.
Madame Yumiko of the Japan High Heel Association  gives a lesson in how to walk in high heels on April 27, 2016. Toshifumi Kitamura / Agence France-Presse
Madame Yumiko of the Japan High Heel Association gives a lesson in how to walk in high heels on April 27, 2016. Toshifumi Kitamura / Agence France-Presse

TOKYO // Feminists, look away! Fashion police in Japan want to ‘empower’ women by persuading them to wear high heels, insisting the country’s historic ‘kimono culture’ has led to many women “walking like ducks.

The Japan High Heel Association (JHA) is calling on women across the country to swap sensible shoes for a pair of stilettos, claiming walking tall will improve their posture and their confidence.

“Japanese women walk like ducks,” said JHA managing director ‘Madame’ Yumiko at her plush Tokyo salon. Not a woman to mince her words, she added, “They waddle along, pigeon-toed. It looks ghastly.” she added.

As a remedy, the all-female organisation charges thousands of dollars for etiquette lessons, including special classes where women are taught to walk correctly, and particularly in high heels, claiming it helps Japanese women become more self-assured.

“Many women are too shy to express themselves. In Japanese culture, women are not expected to stand out or put themselves first,.” said Ms Yumiko.

Critics say the idea is sexist and laughable, particularly as women are still battling against a deeply ingrained patriarchal culture that once expected them to walk three paces behind men.

Yet the “walking etiquette classes” are proving hugely popular, with students willing to part with 400,000 yen ($3,700) for a six-month course. So far, 4,000 have taken part, while similar lessons and schools are popping up nationwide.

Former ballerina Madame Yumiko, 48, blames Japan’s sartorial heritage for the posture problem.

“Chinese or Korean ladies don’t have these problems,” she said. “It’s a result of Japan’s kimono culture and shuffling about in straw sandals. It’s ingrained in the way Japanese walk. But very few Japanese wear a kimono all day anymore. We should know about Western culture and how to wear heels correctly.”

The shift away from traditional Japanese clothes began in the late 19th century but stilettos only became a fashion staple in Japan in the 1980s.The call to don heels to be more Western comes at a time when women in the West are rebelling against diktats on how they should dress.

Hollywood star Julia Roberts went barefoot on the red carpet during the Cannes Film Festival in May to signal her protest against the organisers ejecting women wearing flat shoes at the previous year’s event.

Last month, more than 100,000 people petitioned the UK parliament calling for a change to an outdated dress code law that allowed employers to require women to wear high heels in the workplace. The campaign, now backed by several politicians, was launched by a receptionist who was sent home for wearing flat shoes at work.

However, not everyone agrees with Madame Yumiko. Prominent Japanese social commentator Mitsuko Shimomura dismissed the idea as “nonsense.”

She said: “There’s no relationship between wearing high heels and women’s power. It sounds crazy.”

Heels have been in and out of vogue — for men and women — for centuries, with murals on ancient Egyptian tombs dating them back to around 4,000BC. Tomoko Kubota, 45, a director of the JHA, said high heels would also have a beneficial knock-on effect in men. “If women look sexier, it will help Japanese men buck up their ideas,” she said.

A 2014 study by scientists from France’s Universite de Bretagne-Sud supports this view. Social experiments showed men behave more positively toward high-heeled women One test showed that men were 50 per cent more likely to pick up a glove dropped by a woman in heels rather than flats.

Students from across Japan can sit exams to gain a JHA certificate allowing them to become high heel instructors. “We learn how to move in a kimono and how to bow correctly, but not how to walk (in heels),” said hypnotherapist Takako Watanabe, 46 after a walking lesson.

Fellow JHA graduate Ayako Miyata, 44, who owns n impressive stiletto collection said they were “an essential item for a woman to feel pride and confidence in herself.” In fact, she thinks men should wear them too. : “As in the Renaissance period, men want to look taller and more stylish. Men should wear heels, so they can preen majestically like Louis XIV. I’m sure it will happen.”

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: June 23, 2016 04:00 AM