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…