Men's shoes magazine

Features

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Taking pride in factory made shoes.

Otsuka Shoe boasts one of the longest shoe making histories in Japan.
The Goodyear welted shoes made here continue to evolve even now, aided by the skilled hands and knowledge of craftsmen.

photographs_Takao Ohta
text_Yukihiro Sugawara

Isetan special order suede & smooth combination full brogues. These are completed with ornaments by INDIAN CRAFT. They are a new direction for dress shoes.

Isetan special order suede & smooth combination full brogues. These are completed with ornaments by INDIAN CRAFT. They are a new direction for dress shoes.

Order made lasts. Required modifications are marked on the surface.

Order made lasts. Required modifications are marked on the surface.

Lasts are made while referring to a sheet with the measurements of the customer’s feet.

Lasts are made while referring to a sheet with the measurements of the customer’s feet.

Mr. Ishiwatari, a master craftsman with 33 years in the industry, watches over a younger craftsman at work, offering the occasional piece of advice.

Mr. Ishiwatari, a master craftsman with 33 years in the industry, watches over a younger craftsman at work, offering the occasional piece of advice.

The temporary stitching completed, with the bottom removed. The next step is to make any required modifications and then finish the shoes.

The temporary stitching completed, with the bottom removed. The next step is to make any required modifications and then finish the shoes.

Machines that test water resistance and durability are placed next to the space for the hand sewing craftsman, and are used to test the shoes. Quality control is also at a very high standard.

Machines that test water resistance and durability are placed next to the space for the hand sewing craftsman, and are used to test the shoes. Quality control is also at a very high standard.

The space for the hand sewing craftsmen. This has a unique atmosphere that is more like an office than a workshop.

The space for the hand sewing craftsmen. This has a unique atmosphere that is more like an office than a workshop.

Today, Otsuka Shoe is known as a comprehensive shoe company that handles a wide variety of different shoes, dealing in famous brand such as “HUSH PUPPIES”, “JOHNSTON & MURPHY” and “PAUL STUART”, and covering not just dress shoes but everything from the casual to the comfortable. On the other hand, it has also shown from time to time eye-catching craftsmanship, such as the “grandpa boots” (button up boots) that have proven so popular among shoe lovers. In recent years, variations of the brand, including “OTSUKA M-5” and “OTSUKA SHOTEN”, have been releasing shoes packed with the skills of craftsmen, clearly setting themselves up in competition with the luxury ready-to-wear shoes of Europe.
It is by no means an exaggeration to say that the history of the company is the perfect mirror to the modernization and Westernization of Japan since the Meiji period. Otsuka Shoten was founded in Rougetsu-cho (modern Shinbashi, Minato) in the fifth year of Meiji (1872). In the years after its founding it made shoes for the Imperial household and also started production of government issue shoes for the imperial army and navy. From the very beginning it was a shoe maker representative of Japan, even submitting shoes to the Paris Exposition and receiving a prize. It was during the Taisho period that it started to mechanize, with the introduction of Goodyear welt machines. After the end of the Second World War, the name of the company was changed to Otsuka Shoe Co., Ltd. and a factory was constructed in Hiyoshi, Kanagawa. Alongside its own brand shoes it has also made shoes for many other famous brands, in part leading to the introduction of many European and American shoe brands to Japan, including CHURCH’S and GRENSON, and making them a leading force in the Japanese shoe market.
The current Hiyoshi factory where the shoes are made was newly constructed in the 90s. Standing in a residential area, the exterior of the factory looks more like a corporate building than a manufacturing plant. Formerly, a single story building stood in much wider grounds, but no remnant of that remains now. After passing through the entrance hall, evocative of the history and background of the company and including displays of its shoes for the Imperial household, climbing to the first floor reveals the shoe making area.

Racks full of orderly arranged lasts. For the new “OTSUKA PLUS” series, new lasts have been developed that include toes curved to the inside and asymmetric heels.

Racks full of orderly arranged lasts. For the new “OTSUKA PLUS” series, new lasts have been developed that include toes curved to the inside and asymmetric heels.

The button up (grandpa) boots that have become characteristic of Otsuka Shoe in recent years.

The button up (grandpa) boots that have become characteristic of Otsuka Shoe in recent years.

The edge of the upper parts is folded by hand using a paper pattern. Otsuka has achieved factory line production while including this kind of skilled craftsman’s process.

The edge of the upper parts is folded by hand using a paper pattern. Otsuka has achieved factory line production while including this kind of skilled craftsman’s process.

The pitch of the sewing machines is also very fine. This is another craftsman’s technique.

The pitch of the sewing machines is also very fine. This is another craftsman’s technique.

Hand sewing craftsmen are placed at various points in the process, demonstrating the direction the work is taking, etc.

Hand sewing craftsmen are placed at various points in the process, demonstrating the direction the work is taking, etc.

Heel counters. Materials are used with adhesive already attached. “Preparation for the actual work” is a vital element in logical and high quality manufacturing.

Heel counters. Materials are used with adhesive already attached. “Preparation for the actual work” is a vital element in logical and high quality manufacturing.

Currently multiple production methods are handled here, from Goodyear welting to cement construction. One point of particular note is that the hand sewn process is also performed inside the factory. Four craftsmen, including veterans with a career of more than 30 years, work in a permanent space alongside the mechanised shoe making processes. As well as making shoes for the Roppongi Hills “Shoe Manufacturers Otsuka” and order made shoes for orders placed with Isetan Shinjuku and other shops, it also performs repairs, and conducts experiments and technical guidance when new shoe making techniques are introduced to the factory.
“Our focus is ultimately always on factory production.”
This comes from Mr. Junji Inoyama, our guide to Otsuka Shoe. For example, when bringing in details like the uniquely Japanese “yahazu” style of outsole, which feel very close to the work of craftsmen, the overall process is determined through discussion with these on-site craftsmen to determine how the hand sewn work should be performed, including where to realise it in the production process, the format the details will take, and the flow of the work.

Granulated cork is used for the inside. Furthermore, “OTSUKA PLUS” uses granulated cork after making slits in the insole, further heightening flexibility.

Granulated cork is used for the inside. Furthermore, “OTSUKA PLUS” uses granulated cork after making slits in the insole, further heightening flexibility.

These unexpectedly coloured uppers use leather selected specifically for the dyeing and finishing the product will receive, retaining the feeling of the base leather.

These unexpectedly coloured uppers use leather selected specifically for the dyeing and finishing the product will receive, retaining the feeling of the base leather.

Clicking was seen being performed by hand and using a paper pattern.

Clicking was seen being performed by hand and using a paper pattern.

“OTSUKA PLUS” full brogues coloured in navy and then finished. Also characterized by colouration that makes use of work performed by hand. ▷¥45,000

“OTSUKA PLUS” full brogues coloured in navy and then finished. Also characterized by colouration that makes use of work performed by hand. ▷¥45,000

These are burgundy coloured plain toes. They give a clear feeling of the unique shape of the last used to make them. ▷¥45,000

These are burgundy coloured plain toes. They give a clear feeling of the unique shape of the last used to make them. ▷¥45,000

Inside the factory, the shoes to be produced are transported on racks between each process. They also used a production flow machine called a “duo rail” in the past, but changed to the current method as shoe making became more diverse and complicated.

Inside the factory, the shoes to be produced are transported on racks between each process. They also used a production flow machine called a “duo rail” in the past, but changed to the current method as shoe making became more diverse and complicated.

This pride and knowhow relating to ready-made shoes has been fully brought to bear on the “OTSUKA PLUS” series, which rolled out this autumn. These shoes are characterised by their production methods and materials. With a Goodyear welted base, the arch of the foot is not stitched but crimped, reducing the space it requires and making it look smart. Furthermore, for the insole, rather than using one with a cloth rib attached, generally considered vital for Goodyear welted, one is used with a tape made from bends, the same material as the insole, stitched along the underside. This method maintains the Goodyear welt construction and all of its good points, while removing the stiffness that accompanies that shoe making method, providing excellent snap back.
“The Mckay-Goodyear processes, which form the basis of this shoe, originally required advice from craftsmen with hand sewing skills, but now we are able to perform them on a production line,” explains Mr. Inoyama. The way in which luxury ready-made shoes have been made, especially Goodyear welted ones, may at a glance appear to have never changed in decades, or even a hundred years. However, in the places they are actually made, new challenges are being faced every day, and the methods are constantly evolving. Furthermore, new challenges in totally different construction are also being undertaken. Indeed, this approach to shoe making reaffirmed for us the understanding that craftsmanship isn’t something that is “maintained,” but something that grows through the continuing accumulation of pursuit and change.
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