Tell us a little about the Japanese client versus the European client. What are his particularities? What does he order the most?
We have few European clients at the moment. So it is hard to compare the Japanese client to the European client. As far as I can tell about our few European clients, they regard our shoes as an art and have respect for our shoemaking technique very much. They trust the quality of Japanese products. So they entrust us with the details of their order. On the other hand, Japanese clients have a great longing for European bespoke culture. In general, Japanese clients are particularly interested about the small details of the shoes.
Despite that, I can find more similarities rather than differences between the Japanese client and the European client. Regardless of region, our clients chose us/our shoes from many bespoke shoemakers/brands in the world. Both clients love classic shoes having both elegance and modernity. They have confidence in themselves, and thus they don’t require strong personality shoes.
Lately more and more young people schooled in Europe return to Japan in order to become shoemakers. How is this “repatriation” seen through the eyes of a Japanese shoemaker? What makes them return home?
The shoe/shoemaking has its origin in Europe. So it is natural that young people want to go to Europe to study shoemaking. It is the same with me. They want to touch bespoke or European culture besides learning shoemaking. Some of them wanted to stay in Europe as a professional shoemaker.
But there are limitations in staying/working in a foreign country, not as a student, but as a professional. I know the following case, when some famous European bespoke shoemaker sends all the materials (including the last) to the shoemaker (he came back from Europe) in Japan. After completion of the shoes, they are sent back to Europe, even if the shoes were ordered by a Japanese customer. It is a bit ironical, isn’t it?
Some young people return to Japan according to their plan. They might aim to become a professional shoemaker. It is a great but also very difficult challenge. They have to get over all kind of difficulties by themselves. But these challenges of young people give me courage to go forward.
I wish all young people would find their place where they can make full use of their skills and passion in the shoe business.
What leathers do you work with? Describe a little the process for us…
We use all sorts of leather for upper shoe that come from England, France, Germany, Italy and USA. These leathers are box calf, full grain aniline calf, suede, cordovan, crocodile, lizard and so on. We have some stocks for customers in the workshop, but sometimes we prepare other particular leathers according to customer’s request through our business connections.
Do you work with in-house made shoe lasts?
I am making individual shoe lasts for our customers in the workshop every day. We also have base lasts for MTO. I developed their original last. I of course have to ask the bulk last manufacturer to grade its last.
What is your favorite model?
I love all types of shoe models. But if I had to choose only one, I would choose the gillie type model that has loops on the face instead of eyelets. There are some gillie models in our collection. Some customers might regard them as the icon of HIRO YANAGIMACHI.
What plans do you have on a medium term?
Until now we have been taking shoe orders only at the workshop. But from the latter of this year, I will go outside the workshop to meet new customers. That includes oversea countries/places. I intend to hold oversea trunk shows within a few years. We have launched the international web site to introduce HIRO YANAGIMACHI to the non-Japanese speakers as the first step to our next trial.
To achieve those plans, I have to make preparations to spread our capacity of making shoes. They include trainings of young shoemakers.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
What turns you on (creatively, spiritually or emotionally)?
I respect all kind of artists and artisans, such as painters, photographers, craftsmen and designers, who have strong will and make efforts to create something new. When I see antiques or vintage products that were made in the no-machine era, I really wonder at their beauty and at the wisdom of the predecessors. I can feel a strong passion in them and I never feel that in the mass products nowadays. I am very impressed when I touch the possibility of handwork.
What turns you off?
Selfish attitude or behavior that lacks consideration for others. Products or work that don’t contain anything of value, but only the thought of moneymaking.
What sound or noise do you love?
The murmur of a small stream, a refreshing breeze and brilliant green leaves.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The sound of my alarm clock in the sleepy mornings.
What profession would you not like to do?
A lawyer. If I were a lawyer, I would have to face the problems between people every day. I respect lawyers, but I would not like to be one.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Did you enjoy?
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Why did you choose to be a shoemaker? What made you walk this path and not another one?
I worked for a company as an industrial designer for 5 years. During that time, I learnt the realities of industrial design and felt some stresses that were caused of various factors from design method to company policy. But those things were good for me to understand myself. I understood that I had to seek the way or things that I could pursue through my life.
Since before becoming an industrial designer I had been interested in a shoe and leather materials. One day I saw a magazine that featured the British classic shoe and its culture. It was maybe the first time to introduce the real classic shoe to Japanese. I was deeply impressed with the real classic shoe and its culture. I discovered the craftsmanship, beauty of forms, fascination of materials, long-lasting spirit, and classic style in those shoes. They were the things I could never feel from my works at that time. And I realized that they were what I had been seeking for.
The shoe is not only an important fashion item that reflects the value of its wearer, but also a functional tool for walking. We cannot make any industrial products only by hand, but the best quality shoes can be made only by hand. I don’t know other products that have such interesting elements like shoes. And thus the shoe/shoemaking is the most suitable means for me to express myself and connect to other people.
Who influenced you most in choosing your later career?
It is hard to choose a “most”. Or rather it may be better to say that I have not been influenced by any particular person on my shoemaker’s career.
I had studied shoemaking at Cordwainers College in London. During this period, I could touch English culture irrespective of shoemaking or daily life. Of course there were many differences between English culture and Japanese one, but those differences themselves helped me to understand myself deeper, that is, who I am, what I want to do, what I express by shoemaking and so on. My London life, it was a great experience and influenced me very much in connecting the past and the future.
What memory do you keep from the first finished pair of shoes?
My first finished pair of hand-sewn welted shoes was made during the evening class in the College. It took almost one year to finish. I had been deeply impressed when I touched the shoemaking wisdom and ideas of my predecessors. But honestly speaking, it was so difficult that I could not picture myself as becoming a bespoke shoemaker in the future.
When did you lay the foundation of your shoe studio and what were the challenges/ difficulties back then?
I have started my workshop in a different place in 1999 . My workshop was in the shoe retail shop “World Footwear Gallery” (that is located in a very close area to the present workshop). At that time, there was almost nothing that could be called bespoke shoe workshop and also bespoke shoe culture itself in Japan. So it was a new trial in collaboration with shoe-retailers and shoemakers. We challenged to introduce and spread the hand made shoe or bespoke shoe culture on the Japanese shoe market.
What about now? What things would you like to change but couldn’t do that just yet?
I have worked as a bespoke shoemaker for 15 years, thanks to the support of our customers. Besides us, today’s Japan/Tokyo, you can find many bespoke shoemakers. But I think that it still cannot be called “bespoke culture”. We have to make efforts to let as many people as possible know about the bespoke shoemaking service.
When I started my business, I had no staff. But now I have 3 employees and we work together every day. We have been developing many styles of footwear and making these samples. Now a customer can find and order almost all kind of footwear in our workshop (Hiro Yanagimachi). Besides bespoke order, a customer can choose MTO or MTM according to his/her foot shape and also budget. We have prepared those options to make shoes so that as many people as possible can take part in the bespoke shoe world.
I have been trying to make a better relationship between people and shoes. But it is still on the way.
Are there other members of your family involved in the business?
There are no other members of my family. I have 3 fulltime employees. They are much younger than me. I trained them before they started to work for customer’s order. Now they became good shoemakers. I am really happy to work together with them. I think we are almost “a family”.
To be continued…