This is the "Shoeshiner's Explorations" series. There are so many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this fourth installment, we interview Peco Nishioka of "Shoeshiner's Explorations," who works in Himeji.
How did you get started as a shoeshiner?
The main reason is that my family in Himeji used to run a shoe shop, but that had nothing to do with it at first. I worked as a chef in the restaurant industry for 10 years, working in a variety of places from popular Italian restaurants to high-end restaurants and cafes in Osaka.
At the time, I was thinking of starting my own restaurant business, so I worked in butcher shops, bars, etc., and spent all my free time in the morning and at night cooking. Then one day, I suddenly received a phone call from my brother who lived in Osaka, telling me that my mother, who was taking care of my grandmother at the time, was going through a lot of difficulties.
I was living in a dormitory system at a school in Kochi Prefecture on a sports recommendation (basketball) from high school. After graduation, I immediately went to work, so I felt sorry that I had not been able to be close to my mother.
I also realized how important a mother is when my first son was born, and when I received a phone call from my brother, I decided that I had to return to Himeji. That was the moment I realized that I could not quit the world of chefs halfway, so I quit the business altogether.
At that time, I started working in the shoe department of a local department store in Himeji called Yamato Yamashiki. At that time, a company owned by my mother's family called "Nakajima Shoe Store" was taking care of the buying and sales of Yamato Yamashiki's shoe department. I was selling shoes at the storefront because of that relationship.
At that time, the Yamato Yamashiki Department Store was celebrating its 110th anniversary, but it collapsed in its 111th year. At the time, there was a men's shoe department on the 5th floor, and the situation was so bad that only two customers a day would come in. I wondered where my salary was coming from.
I thought I would become a useless person if I continued in this situation, so I started learning about shoe repair on the Internet. That's how I found out that there was a store specializing in shoeshine.
I thought I could do shoeshine right away, so I found THE WAY THINGS GO in Osaka and went there right away. I think I was a little drunk because I was drinking with my friends.
It was Mr. Terashima (now HARK) who took care of me at that time. I was told that I could not polish one leg, so I went back to my friend's house to get the other leg and went back to the store. I went back to the shop and found that Mr. Ishimi had replaced me instead of Mr. Terashima. I remember I was very impressed.
My family has been running a shoe shop for about 100 years, and I have spent my life in an environment where shoes were made and repaired in the basement of the store, so I have been doing shoe polishing since I was in junior high school. I was surprised at how different shoeshine is because I had been doing it since I was in junior high school. I was impressed that I could make a living if I could make it this far, and that was the beginning of my career as a shoeshiner.
What is the charm of shoeshine for you?
I felt the world of shoe polishing on the counter is very fashionable. I thought that removing stains was just wiping with a rag, but I was impressed that Mr. Ishimi spent 30~40 minutes to remove stains.
Until then, shoe polish was something that protected and protected leather. I thought it was something to protect scratches from the top, so I thought it was enough to apply many coats of polish and make them shine, but then I realized that it was not like that, but like an esthetician, it was something to improve the condition of the leather and make it last longer.
That was the moment when my sense of value for shoeshine changed. I was attracted to that part, but the appeal of shoeshine for me now is a little different. I think that conversation is more attractive now. Many people who come to me for shoeshine come for some kind of milestone, so I think that dialogue with customers at that time is very attractive.
Is there a shoe or a customer that made an impression on you?
A very recent example is a customer who said, "I'm breaking up with my girlfriend who I'm going to live with. I'm going to break up with my live-in girlfriend. I thought, "Normally, it's the other way around! Why don't you polish your shoes before you break up with her? When I asked him why, he told me that he wanted to be beautiful before breaking up with her.
Many people come to us to polish their shoes for weddings. One customer came in to have his 30-year-old Regal shoes polished because he wanted to wear them down the aisle at his daughter's wedding after not wearing them for a long time.
The shoes were the first shoes he bought when he started working. The shoes were the first ones he bought when he started working, and he couldn't throw them away because he felt that he had raised his daughter wearing these shoes.
It is a touching story that he came to us to polish them because he wanted to walk down the aisle with his daughter wearing them. He has lived in Himeji for a long time, so I think he probably bought his Regal shoes at Nakajima Shoe Store. I think it is really wonderful that I can polish his shoes now.
What is your specialties in shoeshine?
As for technical particularities, Himeji is an area with an overwhelming number of leather shops, so I often hear about leather from them. I often hear from tanners, "How do you get this kind of leather to shine? I have to be careful not to make the shoes too shiny from a leather point of view. So I try to polish shoes from the perspective of leather. But leather shops don't do much maintenance, do they?
They say, "You don't have to do anything with our leather for about 100 years. But sometimes the leather is cracked to pieces (laugh). I also guide people from all over the country to tanneries.
The first thing that has changed after listening to the stories from the tannery is that my feelings toward leather have definitely changed. Also, by learning more about leather, the "meaningless process" has been technically changed. For example, I went directly to the tannery that makes glass leather to ask about the controversy over whether or not cream can be used in glass leather. In this sense, I think it is a real advantage to have tanneries close at hand.
Hasegawa: Speaking of Himeji, do you do anything special with cordovan?
Yes, we use a different polish for Horween cordovan and Shinki Leather's cordovan in Himeji. Horween's cordovan is oil-finished, so I try to restore the oil content. We mainly consider oil replenishment.
It is up to the customer whether or not to polish from there, but in the case of Shinki Leather, there is a little pigment (casein) on it, so it is better to polish it a little more naturally. I polish with emulsifying cream or smooth cream.
This year, Shinki Leather made a new oil-finished cordovan called "Thin Cordovan," which is natural without pigment. Until now, Shinki Leather did not make cordovan for shoes, but recently the demand for cordovan for shoes has been increasing, so they decided to make cordovan for shoes! They are soft and oil-finished. It is softened with oil finish, and is made of high quality beef tallow that is edible.
What do you recommend for BRIFT H products?
I recommend Miracle (THE CLEANER for Mirror shine) or THE CREAM NATURAL. It was quite refreshing to use an oil-based cleaner to remove wax from mirror surfaces. Now I use it not only on the mirror surfaces but all over. I think it is absolutely necessary cleaner because the penetration of the cream improves when dirt is removed using Miracle Clean.
THE CREAM is easy to recommend to customers, not only because it penetrates well, but also because it does not stain easily. If I had to recommend something to a customer, I would definitely recommend THE CREAM, and it is also good that it does not kill the individuality of the leather or shine too brightly.
Lastly, what is the meaning behind the word "Heritage"?
Heritage, as the name implies, is a continuation of inheritance. Himeji Castle is a cultural asset, and I think the idea of inheritance is deeply rooted in the area. Leather shops are said to last for 100 years, so we want to pass on shoes and leather products to the next generation, and we also want to pass on shoeshiners as a cool profession. I chose the name "Shoemaker" because I want to polish people's shoes as well as their shoes.
Listening to Peco-san's story, I strongly felt his love for his hometown, his family, and his love for leather. The way of thinking and approach to shoe polishing because of Himeji is really interesting, and I would like her to polish various kinds of leather.
Her parents run a long-established shoe store called Nakajima Shoe Store, and she has been familiar with shoes since she was a child, so I think she is a thoroughbred of shoes. I can't wait to see what he will do in the future.
If you are ever in Himeji, please come and experience Peco's shoeshine. He is a friendly and really pleasant person.