yokohama echo

The Sock Museum

Japan is full of surprises. This timeworn adage may seem trite, but nary a week passes in this country before something unusual thrusts itself into one's mundane existence and demands immediate attention. Such was the case last week with the discovery of one of Japan's most quirky museums: the only museum in the country devoted to the preservation and exhibition of socks. That's right, SOCKS!

"How trivial," one might say. "Not at all trivial," says Hiroshi Hashimoto, the curator of The Sock Museum. He explains that the many social, cultural and economic changes in Japan since the turn of the century are mirrored in the foot coverings on display in The Sakata Archives Memorial Hall. From the first machine-knitted socks produced in Japan for purveyors of Western tastes, to the finest quality socks produced in the bubble economy years (3 pairs for ¥100,000), The Sock Museum traces the modern history of Japanese society through socks.

Sakata: A sock pioneer in Japan

The museum was established in 1978 in honour of the work of the late Nobumasa Sakata. Sakata was the managing director of Naigai Company, Ltd., the leading manufacturer of socks and nylons in the country. A knitting techniques expert, Sakata authored "The History of Socks" (published in 1970) and collected socks from around the world. These and about 22,000 pairs of socks produced by Naigai are on display in the museum.

As well as socks and nylons, the museum houses a collection of antique knitting machines and reprints of photographs, advertisements and drawings depicting footwear through the ages. Patron favourites, says Hashimoto are the portrait of King Henry VIII, who made stockings fashionable, and the early 19th century drawing of a samurai knitting his own socks. One can also see a reproduction of 1,400-year old woolen socks from Egypt.

Socks of the rich and famous

For those more interested in the fashion styles of the rich and famous, the museum has on display the silk socks that the first postwar prime minister, Shigeru Yoshida, wore on his visit to the United States; Nobel prize-winner Yasunari Kawabata's favourite foot coverings; and more contemporary, the special-order socks worn by the recently deceased pro-wrestler Giant Baba (size 32 cm).

Needless to say, The Sock Museum has many exotic and peculiar items on display. But what is ironic is the absence of one type of sock. Nowhere on display are the loose socks worn by so many adolescent schoolgirls that have surely made Naigai a small fortune. Was this a deliberate oversight?

Admission to The Sock Museum (Kutsushita Hakubutsukan) is free, but reservation is required. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon. through Fri. Closed on holidays. 1045-541-4257 (Japanese)

To get there: From Tsunashima Sta. on the Tokyu Toyoko Line, take bus at pole 3 or 4 and get off at Yoshidaguchi. The museum is located on the grounds of Naigai Co., Ltd.

Daniel Lyons

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