Asics of Japan has a created prototype space shoe for a Japanese astronaut with the tell-tale split-toe style beloved of Japanese ninjas, real-life construction workers and hipsters.

The blue and white sports-like shoe, which was first shown at Japan's 56th international space conference earlier this year, has been designed with zero gravity in mind to help astronauts get a better grip while moving around in such conditions.

A pair of the 'tabi' split-toe shoes will be presented to Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, who will join a US space shuttle mission in late 2007.

"In an environment of no gravity, human muscles become atrophied and astronauts need to train themselves on machines," said Takehiro Tagawa, who developed the far-out footwear.

The shoes will help counteract this problem. The first samples, with a soft heel and flexible sole, weigh only 130 grams (4.6 ounces) each and incline slightly upward toward the toes.

Tabi shoes and boots with their distinctive split toe are used regularly by construction workers in Japan. The style has now caught on with fashionistas around the world.

By Michael Fitzpatrick