Masayuki Motono, The geta artisans of Hita
The city of Hita in Oita Prefecture developed as a center for lumber-related industries, especially that of geta, which have been produced since the area was under direct control of a shogun during the Tokugawa shogunate. After the Meiji Era, the process became mechanized, and Hita geta spread all throughout Japan. Hita has flourished as one of the top three geta production centers in Japan, alongside Shizuoka and Matsunaga in Hiroshima. The cedar used for Hita geta provides an especially soft cushion and comfortable fit. The beautiful grain pattern is another special characteristic of Hita geta.
There are approximately three steps to be taken before a log of Hita cedar becomes a pair of geta, each of which is now undertaken by a different specialty company. The log is first sawed into pieces of square timber. These planks are referred to as "geta-makura." Next, a materials company processes the geta-makura into the geta shape. The final step is for a manufacturer to finish the geta. Presently, there are less than 20 companies that produce geta. Only a single company remains that still makes geta-makura. Given the continually aging population of Japan, the education of successors to continue this craft is an urgent matter.
Motono Footwear Industries was founded in 1948 for the production of geta. Built on the shores of the Mikuma River, across from the Sapporo Beer factory in Hita, it is currently operated by Masayuki Motono, a third-generation "geta prince" , along with both of his parents. Masayuki is the face of Hita geta for all forms of media, busying himself with local events and exhibitions and conducting public relations. "I had no intention of continuing the family business," said Masayuki. While searching for another job he began to casually help out with his family's business, and soon found himself completely engrossed.
Making traditional Hita geta uses a technique known as "Jindai-yaki". The surface is cooked over a burner until it turns black and is then polished so that the soft portion peels away, leaving behind a hard black wooden grain. Applying "Jindai-yaki" as a finishing touch makes the grain pattern of the wood all the more attractive. Black laquer geta are also made. Masayuki's father, Hiroaki, oversees the lacquering process. Lacquering and drying the geta is a very time-intensive process.
In addition to making traditional Hita geta, efforts have also been made to create new products either as standalone works of art or as collaborations with other artists. "Mule Geta", a collaboration with craft artists, works well with jeans or skirts, and placing the heels of the geta together reveals a heart shape, indicative of the playful spirit in which it was designed. Other various products being produced include "Wa-asobi", an air brush art collaboration, "Nuno-asobi", with attached fabric and coating, "Deko-geta", black lacquer geta with applied nail art, and "King Size", which can be worn by people with large feet.