Mizutori Geta

Mizutori Geta

MIZUTORI GETA

Sometimes the trip to meet the makers is half the fun…

From Tokyo to Shizuoka, and Kyoto out to Kojima, I had a lot to do and see in the 6 days I was in Japan. I decided to fly straight to Tokyo, stay overnight at a hotel near Narita, then catch a train down to Shizuoka early the next morning. I’m telling you this as the trip itself to the first meeting in Shizuoka was to set up the rest of my time here as to how kind and generous the people were.

As I didn’t want to take my suitcase to this meeting, I had already decided to leave it in a locker at the Shizuoka train station then I’d jump in a taxi to the factory. Not having the correct change, the lovely lady from the customer service desk, had me put my case in the locker then follow her to the nearest shop. Of course no-one is interested in my old vintage Qantas bag, and she knew it, as she patted my arm as if to say don’t worry about it. So that was good enough me.

To the taxi I went, handed the driver the address and double checked how far it was. I figured about 10min and about $20, which it was. Boy it was hot, really humid. The driver spoke no english but laughed and chatted to me the whole way, constantly pointing to the address and confirming on his IPad map that we were nearly there. I loved that he kept talking to me in japanese, which as strange as it sounds, I was totally understanding. There we were 10min later pulling up in a small back street in a little suburban area. When I say pulled up, it was in the middle of the street, engine still running and me still in the back seat.

He was still laughing, still had the address in his hand and he started to door knock! When I saw that, I got out of the car for no other reason but to at least be supportive… As people came out of their houses, other people came out onto their balconies. I heard one man say Mizutori, which was the name of the family I was visiting, so I said yes and pointed to my shoes as they make shoes – Geta Clogs. More laughter by them all and much pointing in agreement to say, yes we know, they live just there. And by just there, I mean 2 feet away just there. The taxi driver gestured let’s go back to the – still running and door opened taxi – which we did as we waved the neighbours goodbye.

Two seconds later into the driveway we went, where we found the management and staff about to go on their lunch break. I can still see their faces on this humid day as the still laughing driver and myself stumbled out of the car to meet Yukiko Mizutori, the Managing Director of Geta Clogs for the first time…. “Ohayo Gozaimasu – I’m Jules from Sydney”.

History of Mizutori Geta

Mizutori Geta

The Mizutori Company was established in 1937 by Taichi Mizutori and although the business was always to do with aspects of footwear it wasn’t until his son Masashi became President around the mid 1980s that the Mizutori GETA clog was born. In recent years Mizutori’s daughter Yukiko has taken over the running of the company and opening the world to these wonderful shoes.

I was lucky enough to spend time with Yukiko and her canadian husband Jonathan learning about their new and older style shoes as well as having the privilege of a tour with Marco through the factory itself.

Why buy Mizutori Geta

GETA is the type of shoe, and is a part of Japanese culture and history. It was predominantly a flat based shoe with differing heights and were made for both practical and processional reasons.

The Mizutori GETA are very different from the original versions from years ago. The old techniques have evolved with new techniques and technology, all still while being made by hand. In this modern era, Masashi Mizutori wanted the shoe to be comfortable enough to be worn all day and as an alternative to trainers which have taken fashion by storm as peoples everyday go to shoe. I have to say I’m one of those trainer loving people.
Mizutori’s GETA have a sculpted arch with the straps thicker and padded making them super comfortable around your foot. The wood blocks used for the shoes themselves are made out of either mahogany (which is subcontracted from Indonesia but under strict quality control from Yukiko as the actual shaping of the clog is done there) as well as local Shizuoka cypress (Hinoki) which is lighter in colour but shaped in Japan.

The company is very aware of being sustainable and helping the local japanese forests live on by the planting of new, young trees. There was a time when cheaper wood imports began to come into the market and the local forests were not as well looked after. Today they are well planned and sustainable and are still giving Mizutori GETA their beautiful natural wood.

The Craftsmen

There are many steps in making a pair of GETA and each step is still done by hand starting from those wood blocks for the base of the clog itself. The extraordinary team here of craftsmen and women are all of different ages and work on the one process of the shoe which in turn is passed to the next stage. Each pair is therefore individual to the next and I can witness on each step how very loved and cared for they are until they are sent off to their lucky new home.
There are customers who will never get rid of their GETAS mainly because once you wear them to your feet you will always want to keep them, so for a small fee people send them back for maintenance. There were several pairs this day being worked on.

Mizutori GETA is a beautiful family owned business. We had conversation about keeping things made by hand or introducing machines. Sure, the machine could do way more of those labour intensive processes in an hour than by hand, but the beauty of GETA is that each step is done by one person’s hand and eye. I did ask if someone was passing the techniques on and Yukiko said before her father retired he did train several workers (who are still there), and others have since learnt from them. Some of the original workers of course had aged and moved on.

Updating current factory is on the horizon

There are also some old original machines in the factory that belonged to Yukiko’s grandfather Taichi. As all the factory buildings are in need of repair and not as weatherproof as they used to be, Yukiko is looking at rebuilding the factory on this same site but a few stories higher to accommodate all offices, workshops and storage areas. There will also be a museum area where her grandfathers original machines will go as an honour to the Mizutori history. As Jonathan has a background in engineering, I’m sure this will come in very handy in making it a wonderful new space for them. It’s a very exciting project as they want to strengthen and protect the site not only from the weather but also reinforcing the building in this earthquake area. They would like the new building to encompass environmental and sustainable aspects as well as continuing to be a quietly run factory for the neighbours and suburb they reside in.

Mizutori collaboration with other Designers

The GETA are primarily summer shoes so their busy time with production is between around March to September. It was nice to hear Yukiko say that they often collaborate with designers from all areas (textile, fashion, interior and costume). This means outside their own range they have two other ranges called m2 (m for Mizutori and m for materials) and m & d Designer collaboration (by high end artists creating a New GETA).

Urushi SakamotoTheir shoe range from lacquerist Urushi Sakamoto would be their most expensive, up to $2 000 and extremely beautiful. Definitely for a special occasion, possibly a wedding where you want something different, stylish and comfortable for a big day. With the 2020 Olympics being held in Japan, it would be quite something in the opening and/or closing ceremonies to see peoples feet adorned with Mizutori GETA. The whole range is incredible, so you really have to jump on their website to have a look. Different heights, fabrics and colours. Mainly outdoor shoes, but they do also have an indoor slipper. They are for men, women and apparently kids wear them the same as runners, they do everything in them.

Health benefits for Geta Clogs

The company was part of a study with Shizuoka University to the health benefits of GETA clogs. They are said to give you the ideal posture by keeping your spine in correct alignment, less stress when you walk and keep you relaxed. It doesn’t hurt either that being made from a beautiful crafted wood, that they feel natural to wear and let your feet breath.

Couldn’t wait to go shopping

This day at the factory I didn’t try any Mizutori GETA on, instead I left with an amazing tour and a personal visit of several hours. I wanted the experience myself of going and buying a pair of these, which is just what I did later that day as I continued on the train to Kyoto. I ended up finding the store just before it closed. I tried several pairs and heights on and while I was doing so, it was going through my mind all the information I had learned that day about them, and how each shoe had gone through someone’s hands to end up with them being on my feet now. I bought a pair in Hinoki pine with the lowest heel so I can wear them all the time, especially for my Sunday morning coffee. Yukiko told me that she knows when someone is wearing a pair of their shoes by the sound they make as the person walks. I understand this sound now as I wear mine.
Couldn’t stop smiling, and when the lady asked me if I wanted the box, I said “Absolutely…” (fyi, when you open the box, the shoes are wrapped up tightly almost like a baby. Took me a month to bring myself to unwrap them.)

A big Thank You

You can tell how much it tickled the very bottom of my heart to spend time with Yukiko and Jonathan. I was lucky enough to have met Yukiko’s mother, see the family home and to have met the Mitzutori staff.

Although it was preferred I didn’t take any photos this day, it didn’t matter, as the point was to meet the makers, have an understanding of the Mizutori GETA history and to of course buy a pair and become part of that history. I must add that Yukiko had kindly offered to pick me up from the train station that morning. As it turned out I had an unexpectedly fun time with a local taxi driver who I will probably never meet again but will always remember. Yukiko and Jonathan did both kindly drop me back to the train station after my visit so I could continue my journey to Kyoto.
I thank them both very much for letting me into their world for a few hours, and I genuinely hope to see you again.

https://www.geta.co.jp

“When the mind and body are in harmony, you epitomise dignity and grace. In your daily life, wearing GETA and living gracefully, you can feel reborn.” – Mizutori
Momotaro Jeans – Made by hand without compromise

Momotaro Jeans – Made by hand without compromise

MOMOTARO JEANS

 

 

I thought jeans were jeans until I came across the behind the scenes video (below) from Momotaro Jeans in Okayama Japan. Their motto is:

“Made by hand without compromise”,

so I just had to have my jean loving self try a pair of these on.

 

 

 

 

Jeans Street, Okayama

I’d heard of Jeans Street in Kojima where there are ‘japan made’ denim retail outlets, and I knew it would take several hours on the train from Kyoto to get there. Jeans Street is not where the textile industry factories are, those are in Kurashiki nearby, hopefully my next visit. Where I went is purely a small retail store area.

Jeans Street itself is about a 15 minute walk from the train station (ok maybe 45 min if you go the wrong direction). Thank you to the lovely people in the bakery that day who not only spoke some english and pointed me in the right direction, but gave me a map of the area as well.

All of a sudden you’re just in Jeans Street, which isn’t just one street but a few little blocks intermingled with small residential homes and restaurants. Although Jeans Street initially came about to revitalise this area and to showcase local denim, today apart from me, the torrential rain and a cat, I saw no-one.

Japan Blue Jeans

Fortunately though Momotaro Jeans was open as well as their other company called Japan Blue.
Japan Blue’s shop was gorgeous, set in a japanese style house with a beautiful garden and all sorts of great jeans and pants that you’d expect. I tried a few pairs on and ended up with a navy blue pair of denim trousers. I thought it appropriate I wear these the rest of the day, which I did as I happily made my way down the street to Momotaro Jeans.

Momotaro Jeans

It was instantly clear where all the people were – in here in this teeny weeny store. There were people from Singapore, Germany and India and of course me from Sydney. This brand of jeans are visually known for their distinct stripe, usually in white on one of the back pockets.

The staff in here know what they are talking about, and gave great service. These jeans are stiffer than expected when you first put them on and they told me I should get them slightly tight. I think she saw my reaction as I wasn’t prepared for the stiffness. She showed me another pair but they were lighter in colour and much softer. As it turned out she was just showing me how they look when you wear them in. They were perfect. These jeans apparently mould to your shape (still wearing mine in but feel good so far) and it’s said that once you buy these jeans you will never go back.

Why buy a pair of these?

I won’t pretend I understand the process to explain why Momotaro jeans are different, but I do know that it comes down to a few things. The Zimbabwe cotton they use, their indigo colour and method of dyeing, their vintage sewing machines and looms and of course the skilled craftsmen. Yep, Made by hand without compromise says it all really.

I admired the creation of Momotaro Jeans and their wonderful craftsmen from that initial video I saw, and will never look at a pair of jeans again without wanting to know their story.
I live in jeans and any day is definitely a better one when wearing a pair. Urban Love Life is all about celebrating timeless beautiful things, so it’s perfect that Momotaro say their jeans are “to be loved forever”.

“Jeans are tools for creating lifestyles.
Those who succeed in life take care of themselves and select only the best quality tools.
Quality tools serve as encouragement toward
self-betterment and attract good luck and success.”
– Momotaro Jeans

http://www.momotarojeans.net

http://www.japanblue.co.jp

 

 

Sou Sou Designs

Sou Sou Designs

Sou Sou Designs

I’ve seen these ninja style shoes in movies and in fashion over the years, but when I came across Sou Sou’s Jika-Tabis I hadn’t seen anything like them. They ooze colour and texture and are fun, super cool and stylish. More importantly they make for happy feet.

What are Jika-Tabis?

Jika-Tabis were originally used in environments from building sites to rice paddy fields. Today there are even steel capped versions. In recent years, there has been a resurrection of several textile companies who used to manufacture the original Jika-Tabis, and designers are now collaborating with them to introduce a newer modern footwear.

Sou Sou’s Kyoto Store

Looking_through_window_Although Sou Sou have several stores in Japan, as I was heading to Kyoto I decided to drop into the store there. The lane way to Sou Sou is off the main walkway of Shin-kyogoku arcade, spectacular in itself – and bustling, worth putting aside a few hours for. What I wasn’t prepared for was that there were about 6 or so Sou Sou shops all specialising in either homewares, clothing, stationery or shoes.

I expected that the clothing shop would sell a range of Jika-Tabi, but was in heaven when I was told that the Jika-Tabis had a shop of their own. The beautiful shop assistant spoke english and was extremely informative and passionate about this company. It was great learning of the shoes themselves, with specific information on my size and how they should fit on my foot.

Why Sou Sou’s Jika Tabis

The Jika-Tabis are split toe, light and have an incredible rubber sole which is ridged and non slip, but it’s the colour and fabric that gets you. You are spoilt for choice.

As with the Hanpu bags, you wear them as and with what you want. Many have the surprise of a bold colour inside the shoe, so you can fold the top down if you choose to reveal these great pops of polka dots or full colour. I love wearing these and I wear them with everything. They’re so comfortable as it feels like you have no shoes on. I bought a few pairs this day along with some great Tabi socks which will be perfect in winter with them. One of the best things is that they fold into a small, light cardboard box so a few pairs fit into your suitcase easily… just saying.

Crossed_ankles

Who is Sou Sou Designs?

As I was only aware of Sou Sou Jika-Tabi right before I jumped on the plane, I had to learn more about who Sou Sou were (now seeing the great fashion and accessories they also had). The company has been around for about 15 years and is a collaboration of 3 people, 2 designers (Takeshi Wakabayashi fashion) and (Katsuji Wakisaka textile) and an architect (Hisanobu Tsujimura). I would love to be able to meet up with both Takeshi Wakabayashi and Katsuji Wakisaka when I next visit Kyoto.

Takeshi’s philosophy on his clothing and design is timeless. Watching him recently on Design Talk speaking of the Kimono and it’s place in Japanese culture, confirmed my belief that losing old ways of doing things would be a detriment to all of our everyday lives. With Katsuji, it’s no wonder in the late 1960s that he worked for Marimekko in Finland. Those bursts of colour bring a happiness factor and playfulness to the designs, and having Sou Sou products made locally in Japan allows for the tradition of the skilled craftsmen to stay alive and current.

It never seems to be the one craftsmen but almost a network of artisans who have specific roles of each process. This I found to be the case with all the products I learned about in Japan. There is a lot to be said for the makers living alongside the buyer, as in the everyday person.

Sou Sou clothing is functional and edgy and allows for individuality. No wonder they are proud their products are Made in Japan and are ‘creating modern design based on Japanese tradition’.

Two_feet_in_leaves

 

Ichizawa Hanpu Bags

Ichizawa Hanpu Bags

ICHIZAWA HANPU CANVAS BAGS

Photo_from_across_street_A bit about the this great shop ….

I don’t know about you, but I always find the best way to feel the daily life of somewhere is by walking. The area of Higashiyama, Kyoto is a fantastic area to get out and about from, and the 10 minute walk to Ichizawa this morning was a great way to start the day.

 

This dear little shop had bags everywhere. Big and small, urban in style, functional and beautifully tactile.

Except for the basics to get me around, I don’t speak Japanese. Fortunately though the common ground was the product, and that was all the conversation we seem to need.

 

 

 

 

Ok, what did I buy?

I decided on buying two. A navy blue everyday tote bag which I was drawn to immediately just by the way it felt in my hand. The use of a simple fabric flap could either hide what was inside the bag or could be tucked away neatly if I was on the go and needed quick access to things. These bags really are tactile and you can’t stop touching or playing with them. Purchase number one, done.

The second one which I used as soon as I left the shop was a small brown backpack – well it would have been wrong to buy just one.
The backpack can be worn whichever way you want. On one shoulder, at the back, across your body or like I did at the front of my body so my hands were free. It’s light, big enough for a small umbrella or notebook and freedom to pull out a small camera or train pass quickly. I love, love, loved it.

The Craftsmen

Although I knew before I visited that I wouldn’t be able to meet the actual craftsmen or visit the atelier, to be there in the actual store which is the only one in the world, was really very special. They make no apologies that although they have a website, their products can only be brought here at the store or by mail order in Japan itself. They want you, as I did, to experience their bags in person and choose one that is the right fit. Bags for you, bags for your bicycle, there were hats, aprons and pencil cases. It was way too much fun.

Shop_window-3Everything is made by hand by skilled craftsmen in a workshop nearby, making each bag unique and individual. Here the apprentices work alongside the experienced craftsmen using tools that are made by other local artisans. This company does not mass produce, and I can honestly say that from the first time you touch these bags they somehow seem familiar.

History of Ichizawa Hanpu Bags

These bags have spanned four generations since around 1905 and started out as a tool bag. By the 1920s they were made with canvas and coveted by working men ranging from tradesmen to milkmen. By the 3rd generation and the end of World War 2, canvas was in short supply and synthetic fibre was used for a short time. However, it wasn’t long until canvas returned and the canvas bag began to become a fashion piece. Today, the company is run by 4th generation, Shinzaburo Ichizawa.

After his fathers passing in 2001 the will was contested by another brother. The lawsuit was lost and Shinzaburo set up another company. However after several years, in 2009 the ruling was reversed and Shinzaburo moved back to the original shop. That story made me want to see this shop in person and I’m glad I did. Looking forward to my next visit.

“Not fancy nor dressy, nor made for special occasions
but with a certain something that calls upon you to use it everyday.
The passage of time and loving use bring forth comments
on how much character it has gained.
This is the kind of bag we wish to make.”
– Ichizawa Shinzaburo Hanpu Bags

http://www.ichizawa.co.jp

Ubukeya

Ubukeya

UBUKEYAPhoto_outside_from_side

What is Ubukeya?

A company that began in 1783, an Edo period shop nestled among large buildings in Ningyocho in Tokyo and the most beautiful handcrafted small objects that you will ever see. Yes, it was worth being lost for 5 hours on a Sunday morning for just trying to find this little piece of heaven – and yes, this shop as I should have known was in the end closed on Sundays.

Note to self: always check the details……

This was my last day in Japan and I was in Tokyo, flying out the next morning. I really wanted to find this shop and buy some clippers, you know the ones you use for everything but mainly undoing seams etc. Up until this point I had researched every travel detail well but decided I was all good to go this day as I wasn’t in a hurry and had time to make a few u-turns if I had to. I left early, around 7.30am. After walking many blocks that morning (even got to Ginza), yep really lost, many coffees and visits to convenience stores for directions, I decided to just jump in a taxi as he’ll know. So I gave him the address and after 5 minutes he took me back to where I started and said it’s here. I must have been missing something so decided to ask another driver.

As you all probably know there are street numbers on the sides of each building, and I had the area incorrect. Not Nihonbashi but Nihonbashi Ningyocho. You’d think it would stop there, but no. That driver dropped me off and said the shop is here somewhere.

Ubukeya I had thought up to this point was the name of the area in Nihonbashi but it was the name of the actual shop which I walked by several times. Regardless that the shop was closed, there was a warmth and spirit to this area and the people on this Sunday. It’s a business district, but care has been taken to keep and maintain many heritage shops, streets and shrines. I was having the best morning and again met lots of helpful people, had a laugh and will always hear the taxi driver calling to me as I got out of the 2nd taxi, Ningyocho not Nihonbashi, Ningyocho not NIhonbashi…. (And who knew, 3 doors down from Ubukeya is a train station, which took me exactly 2 stops to get back to my hotel later that day. Total of 10 minutes so I had enough time that following morning to quickly head back before the airport.)

Photo_from_outside_of_sho

Hello Ubukeya

Seeing the shop and its shutters open early the next morning to reveal the inside of this small wooden building was magic. Maybe it was something to do with the time of the day but I think it also had something to do with the light reflecting inside the store and off the beams.There were already people looking in the windows and a few inside already buying. There was something about just standing outside the shop and looking in.

The shop’s sign was simple and intriguing and I was to find out later was written “by the four greatest students of the famous calligrapher Meikaku Kusakabe. Each student wrote each of the four letters, “u”, “bu”, “ke”, ‘ya”

A must to visitUbukeya closeup

Ubukeya sells hand forged objects of scissors, tweezers and knives and is well worth a detour to this area. I had such limited time this day as I was on the way to the airport, but I know this will be one of the areas I come back to first next time. I bought a pair of clippers and a small pair of scissors, all marked with the Ubukeya name.

 

Ubekiya_(10)However the range is vast and includes many larger size items all perfectly presented behind glass for you to ask about. Of course, they were wrapped beautifully, a gift itself and into my suitcase they went. I would love to return with an interpreter next time to Ubukeya and to Nihonbashi Ningyocho as it is full of craftsmen, culture and an array of sweet and savour yummy bits.

 

Thank goodness I didn’t worry too much on exact details that Sunday morning                                              as look at what I would have missed out on seeing.

 

https://www.ubukeya.com