Shoeshiner's Journey part16 Mr, Ryu Niita (Brift H)

This is a series of "Shoeshiner's Quest". There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this 16th installment, we introduce you to Brift H's Takashi Araida, the 2023 Shoeshine Championship Champion.

How did you become a shoeshiner?

It all started when I was working for REGAL and got into leather shoes. At the time, I had dropped out of high school and was looking for a job, and at the age of 18, I was looking for a job that did not require any education. At that time, I found a sales job at REGAL. I worked at a REGAL store in Asahikawa, but to be honest, I didn't start out because I liked shoes at all (laughs).

After I joined the company, I learned the basics of shoe making, shoe care, customer service, etc. from the very beginning at REGAL's new employee training." It was very interesting at the time that what I learned in the training was directly related to customer service and sales, and the more I learned, the more success I had in getting results. It was very interesting at the time to see how what I learned in the training would directly lead to customer service and sales.

At the beginning of the training, we were taught that "leather shoes can be worn for 10 to 20 years if you take care of them" as a sales talk, and when I heard that, I suddenly thought "that's a good way of thinking". As I accumulated more and more knowledge, I learned not only about REGAL shoes, but also about shoes from all over the world, such as John Lobb and Edward Green. That is when I got more involved in the world of leather shoes. The world of leather shoes is deep and wide, and I wanted to learn more and more about it! I wanted to learn more and more.

I wanted to be passionate about something and wondered if this job would last forever. I was the type of person who wanted to be passionate about one thing and wondered if I would be able to do this job for the rest of my life. I realized that in addition to sales, there were three other options in the world of leather shoes: "shoemaking," "shoe repair," and "shoeshine. I wanted to see and touch shoes of various brands. This may be because I was working for one brand, REGAL, and had a dilemma of not being able to be involved in anything other than their own products.

At first, I thought about working for different shoe brands, but then I thought that if shoeshine was a career, I would be able to touch the most different shoes. I started researching to see if there were places where I could work as a shoeshiner. My image was of a small store in town, and I wanted to make it my job, but I thought that I would not be able to do so.

That's when I happened to find Hasegawa's shoeshine video." There is someone who is doing it!" I had a feeling that I knew someone who was doing it. That was around 2010, I think. That's when I decided that I wanted to work for Brfit H. I wanted to work there, but I was still young at 19 or 20 years old at the time, so I thought it might not work, so I started practicing shoe polishing on my own.

In addition to what I learned at REGAL, I looked up information on shoeshine in magazines, books, and on 2chan, and when I went to REGAL's head office, I visited shoe stores in Tokyo to see various brands of shoes and leather, which is difficult to see in Hokkaido. In terms of know-how, I imitated Mr. Hasegawa's polishing videos. I also spent a lot of time doing my own free research. I bought dyes and soaked them into leather scraps, cooled and warmed the leather, and experimented a lot with various shoes and creams.

I was washing them with water in my own way, trying them out one by one, and getting to know them. As time went by, my desire to do this grew stronger and stronger. I decided that I couldn't stay in Hokkaido forever and that I needed to jump in somewhere to get started, so I wrote a letter to Brift H and sent them my resume. I wrote a letter to Brift H and sent in my resume. The timing of the opening coincided with a job opening for a craftsman, so I joined the company and started working as a shoe polisher.

When I first moved to Tokyo and started working, everything was new and full of firsts. At that time, Brift H was more at-home than I had imagined, and it was like a club (laughs). I was so absorbed in the work that I was struggling to keep up with it. (Laughs) We all went around to different stores together and had meetings to discuss and make decisions about various things. Even though it was only a week before I joined the company, my senior at the time invited me to go to a Jazz live performance by one of their customers (laughs).

(Laughs) During my first month with the company, I started by learning office work, so I could not polish shoes, but for the first three months or so, I thought about finishing my work quickly so that I could touch leather shoes as soon as possible. Once I started polishing, I had some basic skills and my seniors helped me fine-tune my work. I was taught the mirror polish part with them all day long because of Brift H's standards, but at first I could only finish two or three pairs a day.

After that, I was checked during my daily polishing. At that time, I learned by watching how the senior employees polished and what kind of conversation they had next to them while they were polishing the counters, so I absorbed a lot during that time.

After about three months, one day, a very generous customer came to the counter, and the senior staff member suddenly said to me, "Let's try polishing, Araida-kun," and I suddenly decided to make my debut. My debut pair of shoes was a pair of Scotch grain cap toe shoes. I had an image of what it would be like to polish shoes at the counter, so I was confident from the start, but when I actually started polishing, it was difficult to polish while thinking about the conversation and the shoes, so it didn't go as smoothly as I had hoped. But it was fun.

Looking back on it now, I think I didn't see myself as I did in the past. After my debut, I polished many people's shoes, but at that time I didn't have time to think about whether I wanted them to become fans or not, I was just trying to keep up with Brift H's standards. It was around the beginning of my second year that I was invited by someone to a shoeshine event at a nearby pedestrian street in Sapporo. I was able to polish shoes in Hokkaido, my hometown, and the event was a great success, which made me feel a little recognized as a shoeshiner.

What is your speciality in shoeshine?

I always change the polishing method according to the shoes and leather to be polished, and although it is sensible, I can explain why I did it. I believe that being able to explain the reasons for my polishing is important, as it helps the customer to feel at ease and leads to a stable polish.

I try to create an image of the finished product from our conversations. Even the shine can be changed to match the customer's tension, and I am conscious of creating a polish that looks good on the person wearing it. I try to make them look "cool" or "cute" when they wear them. The customer's work, the situation in which they wear the shoes, and their lifestyle are very important, so I make suggestions and polish the shoes after listening to those factors.

In that sense, I am a little particular about what the customer notices or doesn't notice. I know it is very presumptuous of me, but I put my sensitivity on the customer's work by considering what I feel is the growth potential of the customer, and what I can do to make it better by stretching it a little. I don't say how I incorporated that in my polishing (laughs).

I often feel respect and admiration for a superior person, so I will, on the contrary, reduce the luster or change the color a little, or if the person is a little listless, I will use a bright color to finish the job. For one of our customers, I use midnight blue to polish his black shoes, and although he can't see them in the dark, I tell him that there is no other host who wears black shoes with a blue shine. I tell them that there is no other host who wears shiny blue black shoes.

Are there any customers or shoes that have left a lasting impression on you?

One of our old customers, Mr. K, had a lot of John Lobbies. Many of his John Lobbies were old Misty Calf shoes, and when I polished them, the leather was so smooth and wonderful to the touch that I still remember the feeling in my hands. The leather was good, but some of them had been polished in our store for a long time, so I was impressed by the shoes that had grown up with the leather. Recently, Patrick Frye's shoes have a very unique shape, and it was very interesting to polish them by moving my fingers in a way that was completely different from the theory. It was very interesting to polish them by moving my fingers in a way that was completely different from the theory. It was also impressive that they were so light in my hands.

One customer who came to me for polishing before changing jobs told me that he was unsure about changing jobs. He told me that he had never had the courage to take on a new challenge in his life. Later that day, I polished his shoes before an interview, and at the end I told him that no one I had ever polished had ever failed an interview. (Laughs.) One day after that, he came to me to report that he had passed the interview. It was the moment when I realized that feet are actually very important.

On winning the shoeshine championship 2023 and this year's challenge

Winning the 2023 competition was a great start for me as a shoeshiner, and I feel that I am now a "shoeshiner" in the true sense of the word, as more and more people are interested in me personally, even though I am also an employee of Brift H. I feel like a "shoeshiner" in the true sense of the word. I feel that I have to continue to challenge myself even more.

I had not been able to imagine myself as a person who had achieved one of my goals, but now I am ready to challenge myself to do what I really want to do. That is why I have entered the shoeshine championship in 2024. I am very enthusiastic about the competition, and since I won last year, I have started to think about what I should be as a craftsman, and I want to be able to show something new that people can't imagine in terms of performance, behavior, and technique.

What is the best product you recommend for Brift H?

I recommend either a cream or a cleaner, but I would have to say THE CLEANER for mirror shine or "Miracle".

I think Miracle is the best cleaner for repeated shoe polishing, and my favorite point is that it is easy on the leather. I also like the fact that it removes well. Especially for cordovan products, I would like you to use this cleaner. It can remove even thick coats of wax without damaging the delicate cordovan surface. You have to be very careful with liquid cleaners, but I recommend Miracle Clean because it can be used equally by beginners and advanced users alike to remove mirror surfaces.

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