I can relate to Masaru Okuyama. He left a comfortable job at the age of 29 to pursue something that he knew he was passionate about. I have to say, it takes some balls to do what he did and it would seem that the journey was not without its struggles.
That being said, he makes some of the finest handmade shoes I’ve ever seen and his name is starting to gain traction. He now has 2 apprentices working for him.
Also, any shoemaker that takes the advice of Riccardo Bestetti is a smart man.
I’m Japanese based in Hong Kong and learned shoe making in Japan. I was born in 1976, graduated from Nihon (Japan) University College of Art. Before I started learning shoe making, I was working in a Japanese jewelry brand which sent me to Hong Kong for 3 years. After moving back to Japan I started to wonder what the real meaning of life is…Working in that company wasn’t bad at all, it was a listed company, salary was OK nice colleagues, good working environment in the center of Tokyo… But I couldn’t have a feeling of living my own life. I was pretty sure that if I stayed in that company until I retire, life would be very stable and not bad but I would end up my life with the question “Did I really live a life that I can call my own?”
So I wanted to try something I truly love and live with it. The only answer I had was “shoes”. I decided to quit the job…. But I didn’t know how to start with shoes…..find a job in at shoe maker? Study shoe design? Import European shoes with a bit of trading knowledge that I learned in Hong Kong? Finally I told my self, if I have to start “shoes”, why not start it from absolutely the original point….making them by my own hands. And I knocked at the door of a shoe making school in Tokyo. I was 29. I spent 2 years in that school, it was a fantastic days which allowed me to think about shoes 24 hours a day 365 days per year. Those days were probably the most intense days of my life.
After graduating that school, I wanted to have some working experience in France. Because I thought it is kind of prerequisite to have an experience in Europe to be successful as a shoe maker in Japan. What people ask when they meet crafts man is, “ where did you learn?” if the answer is Europe. It sounds perfect…. So I went to Paris to find a job.
I visited most of the shoe maison in Pairs – John Lobb, Corthay, Massaro, Dimitri Gomez, Berluti, Aubercy…….but all the answer wasn’t what I wanted to hear. But on the other hand, towards the end of the trip I started feeling kind of doubt whether it is really a right thing to stay here to make the shoes I want? Aren’t I just trying to make my story as a shoemaker sounds nicer?
There was one person left to meet, my friend in Italy did me a favor to arrange a meeting with one shoe maker in Milan when I talked about my plan to visit Paris. I went to Milan from Paris by night train. And I met Riccardo Bestetti. He let me know what I was thinking at that time was right. After seeing my samples, he told me “ You shouldn’t come to Europe” since you learned shoes making from 1 to 10 in a school, you can make a pair of shoes by yourself from measurement and last making until polishing. If you come to Europe and stay for years… you will lose something. What you can do in Europe might be only shoe tree making or polishing… not all the process. What you have to do now is slowly improve all the things you know from pair after pair. You should start making for somebody close, family, friends, relatives….I went back to Japan with a clear mind.
I started making shoes for my family and their friends for little money in my homes garage. In this period I learned the difficulty of satisfying each person’s requirement. After 1 year, I got married and my wife was from Hong Kong. Our original plan before marriage was to live in Japan together… but just before our wedding I came up with a new challenging idea to move to Hong Kong and to start there a bespoke shoe work shop.
I knew many Japanese shoe makers who learned oversea and choose either to come back to Japan to start their business or to stay in where they learned and start their business there. But I had never heard of someone who starts bespoke shoe business in the third country. So I thought it would be a very interesting challenge. I decided to move to Hong Kong.
I started making shoes in my apartment’s balcony. That was the hardest period of my bespoke career until I got the first order. After that more orders came all by reference. Slowly my name began to be known. I opened my own work shop in 2010. Now I am working with 2 apprentices.