This is the "Shoeshiner's Explorations" series. There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In our seventh installment, we will be talking to Yuta Sugimura, who won the 2019 Shoeshiner's World Championship and is now working as Y's Shoeshine in Shizuoka, Japan.
Mr. Sugimura, how did you get started in shoeshine?
I started wearing leather shoes when I was in high school, and then I remembered that my father, who passed away, used to polish his shoes, so I started to imitate him. My father was a typical type-A person who was very neat and tidy. So he frequently polished shoes. So I would pull out the tools my father used and use them as I saw fit, like "mink oil is good," or something like that.
There was also a Columbus brush with short bristles. Ah! I remember a mistake that I can laugh about now, but in the drawer where my father kept his shoe polishing tools, there was a fountain pen with Montblanc ink in it. At the time, I didn't know that it was ink for fountain pens, so I thought I was supposed to apply the blue-black ink to my shoes (laugh). But I did it twice, thinking something was wrong. That was my first failure in shoe polishing.
I think the reason I didn't go out and buy shoeshine tools was because I admired my father. I guess I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I continued to polish my shoes with mink oil in high school, and when I became a university student, I bought my first pair of good leather shoes at Marui in Shibuya for about 20,000 yen with the money I earned from my part-time job. I bought a pair of clownish, pointy-tip shoes for about 20,000 yen. I bought the cream and wax along with a booklet, and when I looked at the booklet, I realized, "This is how it's done! That was in the fall of my first year of college.
That was in the fall of my first year of college. That winter, I was shocked when I saw the Anthony Cleverly Cameron model in a fashion magazine. What a cool pair of leather shoes! I clearly remember thinking, "What a cool leather shoe! But I couldn't afford them at all at the time, and at that moment, they became my eternal dream.
And when it came time for me to look for a job, I started doing mirror polish with all my might. I wasn't very good at it at the time, but I think my shoes were beautiful. So I was praised by the interviewers for my clean shoes. At that time, I learned how good it felt to be praised for my feet. I was probably in a pretty good mood and thought that if the president wore dirty shoes, I would not get a job at that company (laugh). (Laughs) I was very picky. That's how strongly I was conscious of my feet.
After graduating from college, I got a job at a local construction company and started earning a salary, so I bought a lot of leather shoes, including Crockett & Jones shoes. I went to Trepos in Shibuya and other stores. I didn't know how to choose the size of leather shoes, but I loved shoes anyway. I had five or six pairs of C&J shoes, so the basic leather shoes for me were C&J. Edward Green and the like were expensive, so I bought them secondhand. I also bought Tricker's shoes on sale at local clothing stores. Anyway, they were all English shoes. I bought a pair of white Tricker's at that time and dyed them myself, and I am still attached to them and wear them with great care.
My job at the time was as a site supervisor, and it was a very hard job, so I didn't have any time off. Even in such a situation, wearing leather shoes and polishing them was a time of relaxation for me. I started doing it as a hobby and became able to do mirror polishing as well. I even polished the shoes of my friends and bosses. One day, someone said to me, "If you enjoy shoe polishing so much, you should try it as a job," and that was the beginning of my career.
That was around the end of my fourth year in the workforce. I started by renting the eaves of a local boutique on weekends. After that, I started shining shoes at random places on the streets of Mishima and Numazu stations after work. Surprisingly, many people came to my shop when I did it on the street in front of the station, and I had to polish shoes in about five minutes. I learned the advantages of both speedy polishing and slow polishing.
I continued to work as a site supervisor, but I really wanted to work in design, so I worked patiently to obtain all the design qualifications I needed so that I could work in the department of my choice. After a few years, I was transferred to a well-known construction company in the prefecture, and after various changes in the environment, I decided that I still wanted to be a shoeshiner, so I resigned in October 2017.
A few months later, in January 2018, I participated in the "First Shoeshine Championship" held at Ginza Mitsukoshi. This was when I had not yet started my store. I also have good memories of a talk event at MENS EX after that, where Mr. Hasegawa, Mr. Ishimi, and I gave a talk together. As a side note, I bought a Cameron, which I had longed for over 10 years, with my retirement money. I bought this pair with the determination to become a shoeshiner and challenge myself in this field.
What is the charm of shoeshine for you?
The most attractive thing about shoeshine is the feeling of having one's heart washed away. It's like purification. It's hard to put into words, but it's that feeling of refreshment, elation, and satisfaction, and the thrill of having all three. I am sure that is what customers mean when they say, "I didn't know it could be like this.
Also, the appeal of shoeshine is the feeling that no matter how many times you see it, it is still amazing. I am simply most happy when customers are happy. The feeling of being pleased is what makes me the happiest. I polish shoes with the feeling that if they are so happy, I can make them happy. That's all I can say.
What is your speciality in shoe polishing?
I am particular about mirror polish, which shows the pores of the shoe rather than filling them. People think that I can do it by myself, but it is very difficult to do it by myself.
I think this kind of polish is required in Shizuoka because Shizuoka people drive cars and walk around, so a natural shine +@ finish is required in Shizuoka. I think this is the Shizuoka style finish. Therefore, I am very particular about the gradation (blurring). I am especially particular about the way I polish without creating any "sakeme" (grain). It is difficult to make that whiteness into a high quality shine, and it is easier to make it shiny.
The other thing is the color. Of course, if it is better to end with only black, it is only black, but I often use fawn (light brown). When I use fawn, the black becomes brighter, or perhaps I feel that it gives warmth to the black. It is a black that is not cold. Black is a glaring color, so adding color to achromatic colors changes it.
Besides fawn, I also use green, navy, mahogany, burgundy, and cognac. Sometimes I use only dark brown to complete the polish. The choice of color depends on the client's mood. Green and navy are used when I want to add depth to the black. I often use these colors for people who don't have a lot of mouths to feed, or for people in dark suits. Red is used for people with a glamorous atmosphere. I use it for customers who like flashy patterns.
Are there any customers who leave a lasting impression on you as a shoeshiner?
There are so many different kinds of customers, but one customer was a high school girl who came to our store before we moved to a new location. She came in all of a sudden. I thought I might have made a mistake, but she asked me to polish her dad's shoes. I was thinking what a nice girl she was, and then she said, "I want to surprise him with a shoe shine for Father's Day. So I sneakily took out the shoes I had brought from the shoe box from my student bag. I was surprised and overwhelmed, partly because she was a modern-looking girl (laughs).
But the shoes looked vaguely familiar, so I polished them while listening to her story and she left impressed. The next day, a customer who hadn't come in for a while asked, "Didn't a girl come in yesterday? I said, "Yes, I did," and he showed me his phone and showed me his Instagram. The father told me that the surprise failed because the girl's Instagram had revealed it, but he was so happy. I will never forget the smile on her face and it will remain in my heart as a treasure of a businessman.
You are also the world champion who won the shoeshine competition in London in 2019.
I remember the unique atmosphere. I was impressed by the atmosphere and the enthusiasm, which was totally different from the Japanese competition. Also, I participated in both competitions and the rules were a little different, but I thought that the rule of SAPHIR at the World Championships, where you are given a mirror gross and one leg for 20 minutes, was more difficult.
I was very tired during those 20 minutes because I was afraid that water would seep into the mirror and fog it up because I was touching it all the time. I was afraid that the water would seep in and fog up, so I was very tired during those 20 minutes. I also did some abdominal training and resumed playing basketball, which I had quit, to exercise my body. I also bought three new mirror glosses and practiced polishing various things other than leather.
For example, I polished wood. lol LOAKE (a shoe manufacturer that polishes shoes at competitions) is pretty rough. So I would look for wooden boards with unpolished surfaces and polish them, and then I would look for rough iron and polish it. I would look for rough iron and polish it. The thing that gave me the most practice was pottery. Especially potted plants with rough surfaces. Potted plants absorb a lot of water, so that was great practice. In the end, I couldn't mirror polish the pots. It would get to a good point, but then it would peel off. It's harder than leather, so that's why it peels off. If you polish the shoes after polishing the pots, you can polish them very well (laughs).
(Laughs) I also looked at various finished shoes on Instagram to improve the balance of the finished product. I knew that foreigners tend to make the whole shoe shine, and I thought that would be a useless shoe polish in reality, so I kept thinking about the best gloss and coloring that would be useful.
Finally, what is your favorite Brift H product?
Well, I would have to say THE WAX in light brown. I love Miracle and THE CREAM, but I love the light brown color and texture of THE WAX and use it often.
I think the word "supporting role" is the perfect word for this product. It doesn't affect the color of leather on any color shoes, and the light brown color is good, so I think it helps the original leather color. The light brown color of THEWAX has a power that SAPHIR's fawn color does not have.
Mr. Sugimura has many sensitivities that ordinary people don't have, such as his passion for shoeshine and his practice methods. I was strongly inspired by the way he established and practices his own style of shoe polishing.
Shizuoka City is also known as the "Shikiji," a sacred place for sauna lovers. Why don't you go to Shizuoka City to get your shoes and body in shape?