This is the "Shoeshiner's Explorations" series. There are many wonderful shoeshiners in the world! In this 9th installment of "Shoeshiner's Explorations," we introduce Yurie Ito, a shoeshiner and active model. From a former police officer to a female shoeshiner. Please enjoy her story of how she went from being a former police officer to a female shoeshiner, and her motorcycle trip to the world of shoeshine!
How did you become a shoeshiner?
My first experience with shoeshine itself was when I was in the police academy. At that time, I didn't do it for fashion or because I liked shoes, but because I was required to polish shoes like the Self-Defense Forces. I had a strong impression that I had to polish my shoes in order to avoid the instructor's anger, and I had an even scarier impression of the police academy. It was the first time in my life that I had to get down on my knees (laughs). So I had a bad image of shoeshine at that time.
My four years as a police officer ended with no positive image of shoeshine. I became a police officer because I wanted to ride a motorcycle, which I had always dreamed of doing, and I was able to fulfill my dream of becoming a model. I talked to my boss about it, and everyone at work supported me and encouraged me to become a model.
Then, as it happened, a friend of mine was going for an interview and the shoes she was wearing with her suit were very dirty. I thought to myself, "He's not going to get the interview, is he?" So I polished his shoes using my experience as a shoe polisher when I was a police officer. My friend was so happy to see the finished product that he thanked me profusely.
I had a bad image of shoeshine, but I was shocked to know that shoeshine could make people so happy. My friend also said to me, "Why don't you make this your job? He said, "Why don't you make this your job?
At the time, it was the first emergency declaration of the new corona infection, and I was in a depressed mood. I had a flash of inspiration. I went to the city office that day to register the opening of my shoeshine shop. It was that shocking. The name I applied for at that time was "Ito's Shoeshine," which is the name of my business today. I was called Ito-chan, which was my nickname, so it just flashed in my mind and I decided to name the store "Ito's Shoeshine.
First of all, I had no knowledge about leather shoes or shoeshine, so I bought books on shoeshine, researched on the Internet, and watched videos to learn more about shoes. I bought old leather shoes from a secondhand store, cleaned them up, and posted photos of them on Instagram.
I also practiced by polishing the shoes of people I knew. I had no knowledge of Insta, so I suddenly started from the HOW TO (laughs). (Laughs) I still can't look at the first posts because I'm embarrassed. One day, a leather shoe enthusiast in Osaka found it and said, "There's now a woman who polishes shoes! I was suddenly invited to Osaka as a guest at a shoeshine event! I had only been doing it for three months.
I used to polish only 1.2 pairs of shoes a day, but that day I polished 15 pairs. I was allowed to polish at Mr. Ooka's store of the Shoe Shine Guild, and since the style was to polish shoes while wearing them, I didn't know the brand of the shoes, but I could tell that the shoes were obviously better than the ones I usually polish. I was so scared that day,
I was like, "I'm going to train you to be a shoe polisher! But I remember I was very frustrated because there were so many things I didn't understand in their conversation at that time. That frustrating experience was so big that I strongly felt that I wanted to be recognized by leather shoe enthusiasts.
That was the beginning of a big increase in my number of followers, about 1,000 at a stretch. Before that, I had 150 followers (laughs). Thanks to that, I became known in the industry, and the following month I was invited by a department store. We had been charging 1,500 yen until then, but the department store asked us to charge 3,000 yen. That was a lot of pressure, and it was quite painful. I was conflicted as to whether I was still worthy of 3,000 yen, and at that time, I was just impatient.
I had only been in the shoeshine business for half a year, but things were changing so rapidly that I couldn't keep up with my abilities and knowledge. I could tell by looking at them. I could tell by looking at the color of the customer's face after polishing that they were not satisfied. That was very painful.
At that time, my shoeshiner mentor, Mr. Togashi of GMT Factory, said to me, "There are things that only a beginner like you can do. This was my first encounter with shoeshine and the reason I became a shoeshiner.
What is the charm of shoeshine for you?
I think the most attractive thing about shoeshine is that it makes people's hearts brighten up when their shoes become clean. I think that is the most attractive thing about shoeshine. And even the person who is polishing the shoes becomes cheerful! Shoeshine is a space where both parties can be happy, and I always feel that nothing but happiness can come from this space.
Also, as for the charm of shoeshine itself, everyone humbly says, "I don't have good shoes that need to be shined. But when shoes are polished, they become even more attractive than when you bought them! The charm of shoeshine is that it can make shoes more attractive.
What is your speciality of shoeshine?
I try to ask them about their encounter with the shoes and their episodes, and I polish while listening to them. After polishing, they tell me that they feel more attached to the shoes. or "What occasions do you wear them for? We often talk about things other than shoes while talking about these things, and we have a lot of casual chit-chat (laughs).
(Laughs) It is natural for me to ask what kind of finish they would like, but many of my customers have seen pictures of my finished shoes on Instagram, so I tend to make them shiny and new. Many of them want to see their shoes reborn. I also have many customers who are bikers, so I polish a lot of riding boots. Some people want a mirror finish to make them look different, while others want a gradual finish, so it varies.
As for my own special line of riding boots polish, I mainly use my original cream "Honey Bee Cream" that I made last year because it goes well with the boots. The main ingredient is beeswax, so it makes the boots look quite shiny and nice. When you drive a motorcycle, you shift gears with your toes, so you need to polish the mirror polish so that the toes don't crack while watching the balance between the toes and the toes. Many people who wear lined boots use a lot of oil, but since they only use oil to clean their boots, the leather is often very hard.
Many people are happy with the softness of the leather and the ease of wearing shoes after polishing with cream.
I wanted to spread shoeshine to people who had never heard of it before! I wanted to spread shoeshine to people who had never heard of it before, so I decided to go on a shoeshine trip myself. So, I decided to go on a shoeshine journey to spread the word, and that's how I came up with the idea of going on a shoeshine journey. The comments I received were, "Be careful on the road! Be careful on the bike trip! I thought, "Well, let's travel on a motorcycle! (Laughs.) At first, I didn't think I would travel by motorcycle, but I felt like I was pushed into it. It was a complete spur-of-the-moment decision, but I figured I could do it by modifying the back of the bike, so I built a shoeshine bike.
The theme of the project was to visit at least one place in each prefecture to deliver shoeshine services. The Kurafan project raised funds for the trip. We offered shoeshine vouchers as a return gift. We started from Hokkaido, but we were only able to polish one pair of shoes at a shopping mall in Asahikawa on the first day, even though there were many people there. I stayed at an old hotel that I had never stayed at before and felt very uneasy from the first day, even though I had received a lot of support. I was so anxious from the first day. On the second day, my life was in danger, so I desperately called out to them and was able to polish seven pairs of shoes. That is how I traveled, earning money every day by polishing shoes.
I started in June 2022 and traveled for 5 months until November, going from Hokkaido, Tohoku, Niigata, Toyama, Ishikawa, Fukui, and Hiroshima. If I got offers from time to time on that trip, I would come back to Tokyo and participate in events. During my trip, I met an old man in Toyama who had never heard of shoeshine before I polished his shoes, but he came to love shoeshine after I polished his shoes.
When I finally had to leave Toyama, he started crying because he said he would not be able to polish my shoes anymore. Then that person said, "I'm going to travel around Japan, too," and started coming to my shoeshine place every time I was there. He had never left Toyama before, but this was the start of his hobby of shoe polishing and traveling (laugh). He said it changed his life. Thankfully, he brings five pairs of shoes with him to every destination.
What has changed in my travels is that I no longer do "rushed shoeshine. When I polish the shoes of people I meet in the countryside who are new to shoeshine, many of them are very happy not because of my skill or technique, but because their shoes are now clean. It is very similar to the feeling I had when I polished my friend's shoes for the first time, and it brings me back to my original theme of "bringing happiness" to my customers. That is why I would like to continue my shoeshine journey.
What are your future plans?
I have one big goal right now, and that is to participate in the "Shoeshine Championships" and win first place. I had been struggling with the idea of competing in the shoeshine competition until last month, and I didn't want to enter the competition. However, I decided to enter the competition because I thought that if I could make my mark in the competition, I would be able to reach people who do not yet know about shoeshine, and I would be happy if people thought that there were women like me.
There are not many women in the industry, but I hope that the number of women who want to become shoe polishers will increase. Eventually, I would like to teach the skills and train female shoe polishers. It is a big vision, but I would like to create such a society.
Finally, what is your favorite Brift H product?
THE CREAM. Of course, I take it with me when I travel, but I like the way it stretches when I apply it and the way it soaks into the leather beautifully, which is unique to dye-based products. I especially like the navy color. I have used navy products from other manufacturers, but I think THE CREAM is the most beautiful blue navy, and I like it that way.
How did everyone like it? Listening to Mr. Ito's story, I felt that he is full of pure feelings that he wants many people to feel the same excitement he felt when he first encountered shoeshine. I am sure there have been many hardships, but I believe that the way you are creating the future with your own dynamism and strength of spirit will give courage to many people.
I am looking forward to seeing how Mr. Ito, who shines brightly in the shoeshine industry dominated by men, will continue to promote shoeshine through his activities in the future. If you have a chance, follow Mr. Ito on Instagram at "Ito's Shoeshine" and have Mr. Ito polish your shoes!