Shoeshiner's Explorations, part 3

This is the "Shoeshiner's Explorations" series. There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this third installment of "Shoeshiner's Explorations," we will talk to Mr. Teruyoshi Togashi, a shoe polisher at GMT Factory and well-known for his "Tatarinna" (meaning "I'm doing it" in Japanese).

How did you get started in the shoeshine business?

Originally, I was a sales representative for GMT, a company that imports and sells shoes. I learned shoe care from a senior colleague, and that was my first experience with shoe polish. I had always liked making things, so I entered a metal engraving school and after graduating from the school I joined an accessory company, but I left after two years and joined GMT at the age of 22 through a friend.

I had always been interested in shoes, but I didn't know anything about them. I used to be a very active person who wore dreadlocks, smashed telephone poles, break-danced, surfed, and snowboarded, so I really had nothing to do with dress shoes or shoeshine (laughs).

I started learning shoe polish in earnest at a lecture given by Mr. Toishi of R&D (a trading company that handles M. Maubray). He came to GMT to teach us at a seminar for our company. After learning about stain remover, aniline calf cream, and delicate cream, the staff maintained each other's shoes, and at the time I was in sales, so I made announcements to the customers.

After that, there was a period of hellish logistics (I'll spare you the super-hard work story...), and I was also in sales, but then some people in the company started saying, "We've sold so many shoes, why can't we maintain them? I was involved in the establishment of GMT Factory, where I am now.

I had originally worked as a metal worker, so I had experience in metal engraving. I used to be a metal engraver, so my experience in that area also comes in handy! The concept is to tell people in Yoyogi Uehara, "You can bring anything you want, and we can fix your entire closet. I had a separate manager at first, but I managed the shop.

At first, there was a separate manager, and I was in the position of being the main administrative manager, but things happened (laugh), and I officially became the manager. At that time, we were still doing shoe care, but not polishing. But we had a lot of different customers, and I was getting a lot of different requests. I was frustrated that I couldn't respond to their requests, so I started studying again.

I studied shoe polish again from various cream trading companies such as R&D, Columbus, Tapir, and S Isaac, and I also went to study at Saihaku no Takumi in Asakusa. To be honest, I had a lot of dealings with R&D as a company, so I thought my knowledge would be biased if I only learned from them, so I learned from a wide range of companies.

I don't have a mentor that I can say, "Why this person? I don't have a mentor. But one day, when I took a class on mirror surfaces at SAFOR, I realized that it was different from the mirror surfaces I had studied on my own. At that time, I was still polishing with a piece of shirt. I was frustrated again and started looking at shoe polishers around the world.

Around that time, I saw the "First Shoeshine Competition Championship. I thought it looked like a lot of fun, and my position as a shoeshiner was established. I actually went to see the competition, and the audience's enthusiasm was incredible.

Until then, I had not been attracted to mirrored surfaces and thought that care was enough, but after watching the competition, I realized that making them more beautiful was such an enjoyable world. And then I went to the second convention! Well, it was a lot of fun. I had been coasting until then, but as an adult, I wondered if I ever really felt frustrated at losing.

I think it was probably the competition I entered as a shoeshiner that made everyone recognize me. Participating in the competition was a chance for me to make horizontal connections among craftspeople. It was very stimulating to see the differences in the way of thinking about shoeshine and the differences in the way of doing it. I am trying to incorporate all the good points of everyone's polishing methods in a flat way.

What is the charm of shoeshine for you?

Well, I think the most attractive thing is that I can see how things change in my hands. I think that is the most attractive thing. It's just like when you polish a metal object, you start with a rough number and then gradually increase the fineness, and the surface becomes shinier and shinier.

As a shoeshiner, it is also fascinating to be able to spend time with customers who have been with me for a long time and spend time with them as their shoes progress. I think this is something that is hard to find in other jobs.

What is your passion for shoeshine?

To be honest, I try not to fix things. Both in the way I do it and the way I think about it. My shoeshine is always changing, so I try not to fix it. But the interesting thing is that I sometimes go around unexpectedly and go back to what I was doing originally (laughs), so I am particular about trying various things.

If you look up "leather" on the web, you will find a lot of papers on leather, so that kind of information is very valuable. I find that information on tanning agents and the fastness of pigment paint films, which I think are academic topics and not directly related to leather, sometimes become dots and lines. Also, sometimes I try polishing with silk, as told by my aunts and uncles who used to do handicrafts (laugh).

I also try to explain to the client about the care I provide. For example, I might say, "If the inside of the heel rubs easily, I will apply a thin layer of wax to the heel," or "If the customer can do all the way up to the mirror, I will do it with all my might, but if he cannot do that much, I will do it with a thin layer. I want to polish shoes in a way that they can take care of themselves after I polish them.

What I find most rewarding are the words of "thank you" I receive from customers. When a stranger knows me and relies on me, or when I go to an event for the first time in a year and they tell me they have been waiting for me. I can feel that I am making a difference for the customer. This is what really makes it worthwhile.

Are there any shoes or customers that made an impression on you?

Mr. S, who won the last Iwate tournament (hosted by Sugawara Shoe Store in October 2022), is impressive, isn't he? He came to study hard at my place to compete in the championship. He is a super amateur.

I am also happy to see that many of my customers are getting into shoeshine because of me. I think it's partly because we have a lot of shoeshine tools, so it's easy for them to choose. People of all ages and both men and women come to my shop, but especially couples and women. Some customers buy a lot of shoeshine tools for their boyfriends who love shoeshine.

We often receive DMs from customers with videos of their shoes being polished, which makes us happy. Many of our customers are beginners in shoeshine, so we go shopping with them to places like Han's. (Laughs) The other day, I bought some green Spiran (a dye for leather) at Han's and polished their shoes.

Also, the most impressive thing I did recently was to repair the sole of a cute pair of shoes that had a GPS attached to them, because she has a habit of wandering around with dementia. I felt that even in such a situation, women still like to wear their favorite clothes and shoes. Once again, I thought it was important to make sure that the shoes would last for a long time.

Finally, what do you recommend in BRIFT H products?

THE CREAM! The amount of dye and the feeling of extension is good. I especially like MAHOGANY. It is very good for ALDEN red cordovan. It's also easy to wax to a shine after application! The only problem is that my fingers get stained lol.

However, I prefer to use a dye cream to take care of it. I would rather have something that can be tinted than something that has pigment on the surface.

What about the rice cream and the new grape vine cream that you are working on?

Rice cream, which is made from rice, is designed to be a leather cosmetic that is easy for women to use. Shoe creams with a lot of wax tend to be hard to spread and harden, so we made it in a lotion type. We also made it in a lotion type so that it can be used as a coloring agent. Although it is a lotion type, the wax content is a little high, so the penetration may be a little weak.

Our new cream made from grape vines is a sustainable product that makes use of vines that would otherwise be disposed of. This is also a leather cosmetic, so it is specialized for care. The feel is similar to THE CREAM. Grape vines are high in antioxidants, so we recommend this product for those who want to use leather for a long time. We are about to start selling it, so stay tuned!

(Interview recorded in October 2022)

Mr. Togashi and I often work together. It was the first time for me to talk to him again, but he was just "eager to learn! And "honest! In addition, I was impressed by his mild-mannered personality, which makes him a shoeshiner loved by people of all ages and genders. He is usually at "GMT Factory" in Yoyogi Uehara station, so please don't hesitate to ask him!

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