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Updated:December 1, 2017

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Governor's Column (December 2017)

Gyoda City Will Knock Your Socks Off!

The new television drama Rikuoh made a favorable debut on Sunday, October 15. While I'm sure there are already a great number of fans who are familiar with the storyline, for those who have yet to see the show, it focuses on the competitive rivalry between a maker of traditional Japanese sockscalled tabi from Gyoda City and a major shoe production company.

It goes without saying that Rikuoh is brimming with the many captivating qualities seen in "Downtown Rocket," written by the producer of Rikuoh, Mr. Jun Ikeido. Personally, however, I feel that the setting for the drama, Gyoda City in northeast Saitama Prefecture, is particular noteworthy.

Gyoda City became a popular movie and TV filming site after it featured in the highly successful movie "The Floating Castle," starring lead actor Mansai Nomura. Production of tabi in Gyoda City first began around 300 years ago. During the industry's most prosperous period in the late 1930s, Gyoda City became the number one manufacturer of tabi in Japan, accounting for approximately 80 percent of production nationwide. Countless "tabi warehouses" constructed within the city remain to this day, offering a glimpse into the past for present-day visitors. Jika-tabi, heavy-duty tabi suitable for work, were used as shoes and considered indispensable during the long period when the Japanese economy was dominated by the rice cultivation industry. In fact, until the emergence of Western-style shoes made out of rubber in the Japanese market, jika-tabi worn on their own and tabi worn under Japanese sandals were the most prominent type of footwear. While industries invariably undergo change, it is often the case that things from the past resurface in some new form later on. I couldn't be happier if Gyoda City is brought back into the limelight through the re-popularization of tabi.

Gyoda City has a wide range of must-see historical and natural attractions. One of these is the Sakitama Kofun Cluster, a group of nine ancient burial mounds from which Saitama Prefecture derives its name. This unique site includes the Maruhakayama Kofun, the largest round burial mound in Japan and one of the strongholds used by the famous Japanese feudal lords Mitsunari Ishida and Kenshin Uesugi, and the keyhole-shaped Inariyama Kofun, where many national treasures such as the Inariyama Sword were excavated. Another historical attraction is Oshi Castle, one of the seven main castles of the Kant? region. Reconstructed 29 years ago and chosen as one of Japan's Next Top 100 Castles this year, Oshi Castle and its three-story tower now blend naturally into the city's scenery. Some of the city's best scenery can be seen from the end of June to the beginning of August, when visitors can see the beautiful Ancient Lotus Park in full bloom and the world's largest rice field art, as recognized by Guinness World Records.

So why not visit Gyoda City and take a walk in the locals' shoes -- or, as they'd say, traditional socks!

Kiyoshi Ueda
Kiyoshi Ueda