This is the "Shoeshiner's Explorations" series. There are so many wonderful shoeshiners out there! In this fifth installment, we meet Mr. Jun Iizuka of "JOURNEY," a young talent bursting with talent in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture.
We asked him in depth about why he started his business as a shoe polisher and even launched an app specializing in shoeshine.
What was the kick-start of your shoeshine business?
I have always loved sneakers since I was a student, and I had a feeling that my feet should be clean and shined since then. I was living in Shizuoka at the time, so I took a slow train to Lakota House in Tokyo to buy a pair of V-tips.
I was looking up "shoeshine" on YOUTUBE and found the first video by Mr. Hasegawa. (Five years ago, in 2018.) That's how I started my shoeshine business, by polishing my own Alden shoes.
From there, I got hooked on leather shoes, and after that I bought several pairs of Scotch Grain shoes, feeling satisfied that my feet felt good when they were clean because I was in sales. It was during this time that I began to feel anxious about whether or not I would be able to continue like this in the future, which is typical of young salaried workers.
For a long time, I had thought, "I will do something. It may have been a time of accumulation of such thoughts, but I could not find it for a long time. But leather shoes and shoe polish didn't fit in there yet.
The first time I decided to make shoeshine my career was when I saw a lecture that Mr. Hasegawa was giving at Suruga Bank.
I was in a state of burnout after winning a prize, which was my goal, during a sales campaign at my company, so that was also a good opportunity for me to listen to the lecture. Even so, I was still about 20% sure that I wanted to become a shoeshiner.
In January of that year, I went to Mr. Sugimura's store at Y'S SHOESHINE in Shizuoka. At the time, I was living in Shizuoka, so I wanted to see what a shoe polisher looked like, including the fact that he was active in his hometown. After that, I went to Mr. Watanabe's shop at Maruya, also in Shizuoka. The following month, I went to Brift H, and then to Gaku Sato's shop at GAKU+ in Nagoya. After meeting various craftspeople, my mind gradually became more and more solidified.
There were many things that happened, but the most important was Corona. I started working toward becoming a shoeshiner in 2020, when the corona was popular, and I had a lot of time after the state of emergency was declared. At that time, I thought that it would be the last time I would have so much time in my life.
I had to do something I could do now! I started to polish shoes of my friends and acquaintances by announcing on Instagram that I would polish 100 pairs of shoes for free, and I also wrote a blog about shoeshine.
I was then transferred to Nagano Prefecture, which led to an encounter that opened a store in my current location in Matsumoto. Every day something happened that pushed me forward, but to be honest, at the time I was very lost. It was then that I read Taro Okamoto's "Have Poison Inside Yourself," which made me lose my fear of becoming a sole proprietor.
And I digress a little, but I have loved the NBA since I was a student, and it was also the time when former NBA player Kobe Bryant passed away. I thought that such a great superstar had died so suddenly, and I felt that this was no time for me to be lost. It may be bad to say, but Corona gave me many opportunities.
Incidentally, my current store is a shoe repair store that was originally run by a person I met when I was working for a local general trading company. I was talking to him about how much I love shoes, but he had already closed his business at that time. I asked him to let me open my own store, and here we are today.
Then something dramatic happened. The day after I previewed my current restaurant, I stopped at a traffic light and saw a double rainbow, and the end of the rainbow bridge was the restaurant I had previewed yesterday! I thought it was fate, and I made up my mind completely.
About the KutsuReco app created by Mr. Iizuka
I started this app with a friend of my college teammate who was an engineer and fell in love with leather shoes, so we decided to make an app. I wanted to do something that no one had ever done before.
My role was to give my opinion as a leather shoe lover, create images, and promote the project. I wanted to make people aware of the shoe polishing process by using this app to check when the shoes were polished and when they were worn. After polishing shoes, take a picture at the end and put it in the shoe recorder. We created this app to facilitate this process.
I would like to develop a line of goods that can be downloaded for free eventually, so I would like to tie up with shoe cream manufacturers and others to expand the range of people who can use the app.
What is the appeal of shoeshine for you?
The appeal of shoeshine is that it is a purely pleasant feeling to be able to clean shoes along with cleaning them. It makes me very happy to see customers happy to see their shoes that they thought were no longer usable restored to their original state. I also enjoy talking with customers about various topics through shoe polishing.
Many people who love leather shoes are particular about many other things, so I am very happy to be able to have various conversations with them through their shoes. For me, the most attractive thing about shoeshine is the feedback from customers.
Have you ever had an impressive pair of shoes or customer?
The most impressive customer was our first customer. It was a female customer who came to me because she saw my ad on Instagram. I was really happy that she came to my store, even though I am not a local and I started it myself. She was probably in her fifties and brought a pair of country style boots.
He has his own store and at first it was while he was working as an office worker. I was only open on weekends, but even now I remember being very nervous, and to be honest, I was scared (laughs).
Another customer who came almost every month was a customer in his late 30s who brought me about 8 pairs of Yamacho, BENSON, YANKO, Jalan Sliwaya, etc. He drove up out of the blue and brought me a lot of shoes. He suddenly drove up and brought a lot of shoes, and I was surprised to see that there are people who have such fashionable shoes in a place where people tend to wear shoes that are relatively easy to obtain, such as REGAL shoes.
I digress a bit, but I have been talking with Mr. Yamagishi, who used to work at Brift H and is now a shoeshiner in Nagano, about forming a Nagano federation to promote Nagano. Personally, I would like to do something unique to Nagano Prefecture.
I have recently started selling glass sticks named "Shinshu" with the mountains of Nagano in mind. The blue glass is inspired by winter and melting snow. We are planning to release new products in the spring!
What is your speciality in shoeshine?
Well, I don't know how to put it. I want them to be easy. I want them to be easy to care for after delivery. If you polish them with too hard wax, they may crack, and some people may start to dislike leather shoes because of it.
We don't want people to dislike leather shoes, and we don't want them to think that shoeshine is "hard" or "troublesome. Leather shoes are beautiful and shoeshine is fun, so I try to convey shoeshine in as simple and easy-to-understand a way as possible. But I will talk about it as much as I can with people who like it (laughs).
Technically, I don't use much wax, but I use Artist's Palette (oil-based cream by COLUMBUS) to make them shiny, and use wax at the end. For those who like shiny shoes, I wax them well. I want my customers to be shoe lovers for a long time.
What Brift H products do you recommend?
I like "THE SPRAY for WATER PROOF. I personally use it a lot, and since our store sells not only leather shoes but also many sneakers, it's a good point that many Brift H products are for professionals and can be easily conveyed to people of all ages and genders.
In Matsumoto, we don't get that much snow, so the little bit of watery snow that remains can cause stains. This is one of the reasons why THE SPRAY is in such high demand. I often demonstrate to customers in the store how to apply the spray, and tell them how much it repels when applied to their own leather shoes! (laugh).
Mr. Iizuka, who first encountered shoeshine at a young age, has created a shoe management application based on his own energy and ideas. I think his efforts in shoeshine and shoe repair with various ideas that are not limited to shoeshine in a positive sense will be a source of hope for young people who want to become shoeshiners or for those who are thinking of starting a shoeshine store in the countryside. He is handsome and fresh, and I am really looking forward to seeing his future success!
When you visit Matsumoto City, which is also a very attractive tourist destination, why not visit Mr. Iizuka and make your feet shine?