I have been to Yanaka, Tokyo. This area is so-called Downtown. Through Yanaka Cemetery, along to Yanaka Elementary School, we find a bespoke shoe maker; Sonomitsu.
It might be possible that you keep on making shoes only for your liking. But it is not always feeding you. I have interviewed with Sonoda Hajime who is in charge of Sonomitsu representative and who has made shoes for about two decades. This interview tells you a type of Japanese shoe making life.
■ I am glad to see you, sir. First of all, let me hear why you entered shoe making world, before you established Sonomitsu in 1996 Saitama.
Sonoda Hajime: I entered in searching jobs. At the time, there were little who tried to get in the field without having taken part in shoe making, as few of the makers had recruited. Then, I guess I was truly a rare person.
■ Having taken part in making shoes, and Sonoda established Sonomitsu in 1996. What did you prefer at the starting point?
S: Ah… they had hardly supplied handmade shoes in 1990s and the shoes were mostly made by machine. Most of my favorite shoes, however, were handmade in United Kingdom. So naturally I was particular about Goodyear welt style manufacturing method and some. I was too poor to purchase machines and had to start with what I owned. Having nothing, we can use our own hands, can’t we?
■ Then, how much did it let you earn?
S: Hmm… needless to say, it does not always feed us so soon after beginning. That was the time usual second-hand shops seldom dealt with utensils for shoemaking and so familiar artisans gave us some. No leather wholesale stores used to sell one or two. Namely, I didn’t complete set of tools and stuff at the beginning days.
■ You had the whole world against one at the days. When did you feel it started along the right lines?
S: Right lines? Well… so to speak, it has never gotten going yet LOL. You know, it is not so easy. In a sense, it might be the time when material shops started to keep company with us. I guess it set our business on its way. That happened in Saitama years.
■ Thereafter, Sonomitsu moved to Asakusa from Saitama. And moved to Yanaka in 2003. How come?
S: After all, we actually dealt in Asakusa when we were in Saitama and the closer to the dealing place we were, the better it went on. Why did we come to Yanaka…? That was for a delicious buckwheat-noodle restaurant! LOL And we had to have our own shop, not only a workshop.
■ It means you needed to a place to display what you made?
S: Right. As long as we make shoes by hand, it is meaningless when we can’t hand it over to our customers. I had longed for an atelier including a shop since I established Sonomitsu. To tell the truth, we realized once in Asakusa. But little came to Asakusa. We were open in Yoshiwara, Asakusa…
■ Famous red-light district…
S: Yes. Then, we were always surrounded by someone in the sex trade there and it made our customers hard to visit. So we moved to Yanaka. I had opened a shop in Fukuoka, Kyusyu. But that was closed because it was too far for us to go often. I had felt something like wholesale.
■ Generally, you need a certain amount of money for setting up shop. Does it mean you earned to some extent at the Asakusa time?
S: No. My actions were not out of that idea. Firstly, there was a way I wanted to go. If I had followed some moneymaking wind, I could not have realized what I have made out so fast.