The army banned them, ninjas kick your ass in them, but it is only until now that split shoe shoes have become fashionable. Due to the unique and less usual look of these foot wear, people seem to either love them or hate them with little middle ground to speak of. So where did they originate from, and why are they popular all of a sudden!
The official name for split toe shoes is Jika-tabi, and they were developed in Japan in the 20th century. The original Jika-tabi have just one split, similar to mittens, in that there is one section for the big toe and ten another section for all the other toes. These Jika-tabi were also more of a thick sock, usually with a rubber sole that could be worn with the Japanese style sandles / slippers, or by themselves.
Split toe shoes gained their new found fame through Christopher McDougall's book "Born to Run". This reknowned runner stated in his book that standard cushioned running shoes are responsible for most running related injuries. This sparked an interest in split toe running shoes because they are a step closer to bare foot running and help prevent injuries.
The Vibram Five Finger shoe, in which there are individual pockets for each toe, became the first mass-produced split toe shoe. A very close resemblance to bare foot running, but with added protection, these split toe running shoes let the toes assume their natural position and protect the bottom of feet with a light weight sole. This makes them a great option for runners.
The popularity of the Vibram Five Finger shoe has sparked a variety of manufactures into creating their own split toes shoes, and now you can find a number of both standard Jika-tabi split toe shoes and the 5 toe split options.
So if you looking for a healthy shoe for your running practice, climbing, martial arts or other "foot demanding" sports, or if you want a healthy shoe for work like gardening and construction (steel toe versions are available!), or if you just like the look at them, then you can easily pick up a pair today.