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
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.
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).
Their 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.