This is a series of Shoeshiner's Explorations. There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this sixth installment, we ask Mr. Gou Ishimi, the first champion of the Japan Shoeshine Competition and a three-time consecutive winner of the past competitions as TWTG, who represents Japan.
What made you take up shoeshine?
When I was about 20 years old, the president of the company I worked for gave me a pair of Bally shoes. That was the trigger for me to take good care of my shoes, so I asked my mother how to polish shoes, and she taught me how to apply wax to the entire surface of the shoes. He was a shoe polisher. Yamada-kun taught me how to polish shoes properly.
He told me, "If you don't polish your shoes, you don't look cool. It took me a long time, though. Then I bought my first pair of Alden 9901s as a regular clothes lover. I polished them and wore them, but I failed so many times that they stopped shining, so I took them to Bonta (a shoe repair shop in Osaka) and got in trouble (laughs).
I was in the midst of all this when I achieved my goal as a salaried worker at the age of 29, and I suffered from burnout. I lost all motivation to work. I was looking for a job where I could be independent and burn myself out, when I read on yahoo news that a shoeshine shop called "Varnish" had opened in Osaka. I was a little surprised that a shoeshine shop had opened in the Kansai region. And it was right near my workplace at the time.
I went there right away. I brought a pair of Alden cordovans with me. At that time, I thought deeply about the shoeshine business, but I couldn't imagine doing business with it. So I decided to make shoeshine my career, thinking that if it was a job as a shoeshiner, I might be able to break through this burnout and that I would definitely have to work hard at it. After I made that decision, I had no more doubts, and a week later I submitted my resignation to the company.
I started out as a shoeshiner when a friend of mine had a business on the street in Kyobashi and I was allowed to work next to him. I worked there for about three months. After that, I thought that I had never heard of a shoe shine shop that specialized in business trips, so I started a business trip shoe shine shop. It was right around that time that I met Mr. Hasegawa (I checked and it was March 18, 2012).
I got my first job as a traveling shoeshiner for an insurance company in Kyobashi, and when I went to the Kobe branch of that branch, the customer introduced me to their customers, and then more individuals started requesting me, and so on, until I started going on business trips to various places. At that time, I polished shoes all day long, from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. I polished about 30 pairs of shoes a day. I polished about 30 pairs of shoes a day. I learned a lot of technical skills during that period.
In addition to that, I also did training for hotel staff, was stationed twice a week at the store of Ring Jacket, which is famous for suits, and was accepted as a partner store of guji, a famous store in the Kansai region. I was also accepted at a partner store of guji, a famous shop in the Kansai region.
Then, in 2015, we received a request for an event from a suit shop in the Senba Building, where we are currently located. I came to the building for the first time and thought it was a really cool building, and asked if there was a room available.
The next day I got a call. (Laughs.) I immediately signed a contract because a room had just become available. To be honest, I wasn't thinking of opening a store so soon, but I did think it would be interesting to have a shoeshine shop in a building that is a tangible cultural property. So I made up my mind and opened THE WAY THINGS GO about two months later.
It was a sudden opening, but what did you have in mind when you created the store?
Well, one of the factors that made me think that opening a store would probably work was Instagram. At that time, Instagram was still not well known in Japan, but it was already established in the U.S., so I thought it would surely catch on in Japan, so I started doing it in 2012. That gave us confidence when we opened the store.
I also changed the name of the store at that time to "THE WAY THINGS GO," which is the name of the store today. I was strongly influenced by the artwork my wife, who graduated from art school in Chicago, taught me, so I decided to use the name of that artwork as the name of the store.
I learned that a work that is truly thoughtful can be understood without knowing its background, and that "the real thing can be conveyed in an instant. I learned that "the real thing is conveyed in an instant." The video work was very close to what I was thinking about, and I decided to go for it! I decided to do it.
What is the charm of shoeshine for you?
Well, the appeal of shoeshine is that you can make a dramatic change in shoes in a short time, and the customer is impressed by it. And for me, shoeshine is an interesting pursuit, and I still have breakthrough moments when I feel like I am getting better at it. Shoesmithing, like shoemaking, has not been fully researched, and there is still room to explore methodologies and experimentation, so it is interesting to be able to push forward.
Also, I don't think many people notice if their shoes are dirty or damaged. However, on the other hand, people will tell you how beautiful your shoes are as soon as you clean them up, and it is easy to realize the value of shoe shine. I would like you to feel the charm of shoeshine.
Is there a customer or a pair of shoes that has made a deep impression on you?
One customer brought in a pair of inexpensive shoes that had a hole on the inside of the heel and other parts of the shoe were damaged. I asked him if he would do it. I asked him if he would do it, and he said he would. I asked him "Why?" He told me that it was the first pair of shoes he had bought since he started working and he wanted to fix them up and display them in his home.
The customer was very happy when I handed them back to him after repairing them. Until then, I had thought that expensive and valuable things were worth spending money on and that's why I polished them, but that request changed my view of value. I realized that I was being asked to polish a memory. Since then, I have been able to look at shoes while imagining the customer's situation and background.
What is your special technique for shoe polishing?
I think the most important thing is that it is good for the customer.
If the customer wants a long-lasting mirror finish, I will do that, and if they want a cream-only finish, I will polish them that way. I think it is important to have a wide range of skills that can respond to any request. I think that is what makes us professionals. In that sense, the reason I trained as a shoemaker for a year last year was to expand the scope of what I can do for my customers.
I always ask myself if the time and space I spend polishing shoes at the counter is also a wonderful time for customers. We want to make sure that our customers leave with a good feeling. In the past, I have unintentionally increased the speed of polishing on busy days, so I always try to polish in a way that is appealing.
What Brift H products do you recommend?
I use Miracli Chan to death.
I first started using a solid cleaner called Columbus High Shine Cleaner a long time ago, and now I've switched to Miracle-Cloth and use it often. I like the fact that it is less stressful on the leather. Now I use three kinds of cleaners including those from other companies. I use them for different purposes.
Lastly, I have a question only you can answer. What is the secret of winning shoe shine competitions in Japan for three consecutive years?
The secret, first of all, is reproducibility. The reason I named TWTG "OSAKA" in the first place is because I wanted to expand the number of stores by realizing the reproducibility of the technique, and I have developed a way to verbalize and communicate shoeshine.
However, 95% can be conveyed, but 5% is the part that can only be gained through experience. 95 of what we teach can be learned the other 5 through repetition. We try to achieve reproducibility and consistent quality so that no matter how many pairs are done, the same finish is achieved. I was especially thorough in teaching the sensation of finger painting. That determines 90% of the work.
In terms of mentality, when I won the first competition, the first thing I did was to try out and research all the products used in the competition. I gave it my all, and this gave me the confidence that I had done more research than anyone else, and I dreamed of winning every day.
I also had two hours of free training time during the workday to practice. I made sure to practice in a short period of time, so that even if the time was shorter than the competition stipulated, they would still be able to achieve 100% results. I changed my teaching style to suit each person, but I think the fact that I taught them from the standing position led to the three consecutive championships.
I have known Mr. Iwami since before he opened his store, and when I spoke with him, I was impressed once again by his unique world view of shoeshine.
The aesthetic sense is one thing, but the fact that Mr. Ishimi has made shoe polishing into a language and made it possible to reproduce it is the answer to the question, and the beautiful polish that Mr. Ishimi finishes every time is the answer to the question. If you have never experienced Mr. Ishimi's polishing, why don't you come to Osaka to experience it for yourself?