An Interview with a Past Shoe Craftsman.

This interview was held in 2005 at the Mr. Tushimi’s home. Before, he was a skilled shoe craftsman. The general public also buakumin believe the leather related industries including shoe making a “tradition” in buraku. In addition, they thought those were the cultures of buraku. However, I could get a conviction that this “tradition” was the invention of modernity. Originally, shoe making and wearing as productions and cultures were transformed from the Western countries by the Japanese government at the beginning of Meiji period. Burakumin who engaged in shoe production were at the mercy of the Japanese modernization, capitalism. In other words.This interview will show thought-provoking facts.

Kobayakawa: Mr.Tsushimi, I haven't seen you in a while. Did you retired already?
Tsushimi: Yes truly. A lot of water under the bridge. I retied Fukuyama the City Garbage Office before last year.
K: How long did you occupy there?
T: Not so long, 27 years, when I got job at there, it has been already past 30 years old. As you know, I worked as an independent shoe craftsman2, before getting job in there.
K: Of cause I know that you were a high skilled shoe craftsman well. Because I hope to listen your history as a shoe craftsman I visit you today.
T: Oh, I see. I don’t have good story that you expect, but I cannot refuse you. Please ask me what you wont to know about shoe making.
K: Thank you very much for saying so. Then, the first question, when did you start you carrier as shoe craftsman?
T: It was around 1960, just after graduating junior high school.
K: Did you get employment in some shoemaker’s factory?
T: No, I didn’t. I started my carrier in my father’s studio established in one room of my house. Probably, shoemaking jobs in this district started in my father’s generation3. So, he was only my master. However, it was so difficult to keep relationship as master and disciple within a family. I have left my father’s studio for learning skills as a shoe craftsman to Kobe where is popular for footwear industries still now.
K: Did you build custom-made shoes?
T: Sure. At that time, custom-made shoes were in mainstream of shoe production. There is little demand for leather shoes, and more in the past, speaking of shoes, it meant combat boots before the War. The Japanese didn’t have common practice and culture wearing shoes.
K: What was the incentive when you became shoes craftsman?
T: I didn’t have such it. I couldn’t get any employments; therefore, to tell the truth, I became shoes craftsman despite myself. The general public hated treating leathers with discriminative looks4.
You may have interested about a story of Mr. Miyamoto who is a resident at Yoshizu town. He hated becoming a shoe craftsman that the general public hated shoemaking. His father was also a craftsman, and recommended Mr. Miyamato to be a shoe craftsman. However, he chose his way to be an enlisted soldier for escaping recommendation of his father. In the military force, he couldn’t endure hard trainings for battles. It just so happened recruiting some shoe craftsmen from soldiers in the Naval Dockyard that he belonged. He jumped at a chance to escape daily hard works, because he knew his father’s job. Though his knowledge in what he merely watched his father's example, he described shoe making was his family business to his supervisor. He did not have even that he helped father.

As a result, he gained shoemaking skill in the navy force; he became an excellent shoe craftsman, which was his target of antipathy. I see slight sad irony in his behavior.
K: Then, how was about your occasion? Did you engage in your studio without any hesitation or anxiety?
T: In my occasion, I wonted to avoid being a shoe craftsman. As same as Mr. Miyamoto, I felt the cold look of the general public against shoe making. However, I knew enough that I had not academic background and money, and never be able to find any employers. In addition, I had many brothers and sisters. So, I had to work immediately after graduation. I didn’t have time to consider for my future.
K: I see! I know some persons who got same experience in another buraku. They couldn’t get academic background, even if they wanted it. I guess their works were so hard.
T: Because I don’t know another jobs I couldn’t judge whether that was hard work. Generally, one shoe craftsmen’s day, it began at early-morning 3:00 and they built and delivered a pair of shoes till afternoon 3:00. Those days, we build only one pair shoes a day.

After 12 hours working, shoe craftsmen enjoy eating and drinking. At the time, the general public who were on time saw us, and said that burakumin were drinking during mid daytime, very lazy and alcoholic intoxication. According to views of the general public, 12 hour-hard workers were lazy, and persons who never drink alcohol, such as me, also designated alcoholic intoxication. I didn’t understand all of what they said. In this meaning, shoemaking was too hard to me.

K: I understood shoe production basically constructed divisional corporation among some studios in local. What kind position did you occupy?
T: As you said, there were two kinds of shoe craftsmen. One was “upper man” and other was “sole man”. I was an upper man. This division was completed, but Mr. Miyamoto was very rare person who was an expert of both.
K: What circumstance did divide shoe craftsmen into two categories?
T: I think the condition of economy5 of each family. “Upper man” needed some complex machines, which was made in Germany, and “sole men” did not need complex machines. The people in wealth stratum could invested capital and buy a high prices imported machine and became an “upper man”. In other hand, poverties couldn’t buy them and became a “sole man”. Soon this relationship immobilized in buraku as s stratum and I knew later, this gap transformed discrimination inside of buraku.

K: Did you contract with end user directly?
T: No, I didn’t. I contracted with some brokers6 who were lived in same district. Because they were well-trained sales men who had a lot of clients, I could concentrate producing and work efficiently. If I didn’t contract with brokers, I could not get orders and released good products constantly.
K: How much did you earn income a month? I hope to know the wealth of burtaku.
T: Accounting is my father’s work, and I don’t remember our annual business. I remember when I joined my father’s studio, if I didn’t wont enjoyment of luxury, we could get enough annual income to live simply. However, the decrease of order receipts visited soon, and our family became not to be able to live.
K: Why didn’t you receive order like before? What did change?
T: The change of our business has already begun at the mid-1960s, I memorized it. Big enterprises were launching to shoe market. I saw a pair of full leather made shoes, at retail price less than 1000 yen, in a supermarket called Daiei, which was very popular as Shufunomise (Housewives Shop) at that time in Kobe. When Tokyo Olympic Game was held, young guys bought a pair of shoes of very famous designer label for around 3,000 yen. Certainly, these are mass products, but our handmade products were able to have no chance against them in the market.
K: It was beginning of the high economic growth period. The Japanese life style changed suddenly through the Tokyo Olympic Game and Osaka World Exposition.
T: The leather shoes were succeeding to canvas shoes for high school boys and girls. Young student and businessmen were enjoying being foppery such as I.V. leaguers’ fashions and the Beatles’ copy. I think it was good period for culture, but the worst for our business.
K: How did craftsmen’s life change?
T: Abandoned craftsmen, repairmen, shoe shiners at the busy streets, these were our figures in the high economic growth period.
K: You also were forced to abandon your studio weren’t you? What did you do after that? Did you get a job as a shoe craftsman?
T: Yes, a chemical company employed me as an expert of shoe production.
K: What was the meaning of it? Why did a chemical company employ you?
T: At that time, some local companies, including chemical traders, were going to construct mass production lines for shoes with the tide. There were three chemical companies in Fukuama city, and one of them recruited some experts of shoe making. Because I desired to earn money as a shoe craftsman, this information was timely for me as just “One door closes, another one opens.” Too lucky, I thought. I occupied a position of a technical instructor for line workers in this company.
K: Was the individual whom this company employed you only? Who were employed except you?
T: I didn’t remember instructor numbers. However, some instructors came from N, M and my buraku F7. The individuals who had skills for shoe making existed only in buraku for that day and age. My employer offered instructors to Mr. Hirata who had strong influence against many buraku throughout Fukuyama city. I guessed every one entered that company through Mr. Hirata.
K: Didn’t you take a part of production directly?
T: No, I didn’t. My company spaced out us at the important part of the production lines. We gave skills to young workers. Probably, they were mass employment from far local than Fukuyama.
K: Were not you perplexed at first finding employment?
T: No, I was not perplexed, but of cause I afraid it before the first attendance day. I had a good memory with base baseball teammate, especially Mr. Kuroda, whom you knew well, was so good guy.
K: Didn’t you receive discriminative treatment form managers and also stuffs in that company?
T: No, I didn’t remember such treatment. However, I didn’t know what they said behind our backs.
K: According to my investigation, Mr. Kuroda knew you came from buraku. He understood buraku problem well, but another. By the way, why did you go into retirement? I think you occupied very important position of the line.
T: That Company needed us until take off the production lines. The more we showed ability, the more the time when we were dismissed became early. The craftsmen from buraku did not only muster management and other skill for businessperson, but also literacy. Therefore, there were not our uses. I desired to be a shoe craftsman, but my dream finished hopelessly. It was the end of the 1970’s.
K: And, you occupied in Fukuama city hall, didn’t you?
T: Yes. As you know, the central and local government took special policies for decreasing poverty and unemployment. BLM especially MLL showed vigorous growth, many burakumin struggled for stability of employment. We considered strongly the public servants were one of most stable employment and I went chance to be it. To say public servant, the jobs of most buakumin were night-soil disposal or garbage collection that were discriminated originally. Few people hoped to engage in such work.
K: Did you get stable life?
T: Sure, but because when I was employed I was older than others, my income was less than them. Education costs for my children were tight.
K: This is the last question. How do you feel about half your life?
T: As we didn’t have much money to invest business, I have regrets retiring from shoe production. I often think that our work went well in this time when people show the respect for individuality. Certainly, people hated shoe making, but I developed original shoes designs and I trained my skills every day. If I could undo the past, I wish to work for a shoe craftsman again. BUT, if discrimination never exists, I will try again.
K: Thank you very much for your interesting talk.


After this interview, Mr. Tsushimi showed me many drawings for shoes design. I have seen some shoe craftsmen at another buraku. When I asked them to show their tools for shoe making, which they cannot abandon, most took out theirs from their sheds with smile explaining. Usually, they told me the following.

“If I could get high quality leather for a pair of shoes, I designed amazing shoes for you. But it is impossible to get it today. High quality materials are supplied to big maker. We are in such period.”

According to an established theory, shoe making is designated a filthy occupation. However, the capitalist invested shoe making as an important industry that had future. In this point of view, buraku discrimination belongs to individuals and communities, not to occupations. This interview teaches us this.

1 This point of view owe to a study book titled “The Invention Of Tradition” written and edited in 1992 by Mr. Eric Hobsbaum and Mr.Trence Ranger. Hobsbaum studied that “Tradition” is the product of late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. “Trdition” which appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented. In this book, for example, Mr.Trence Ranger studied the following; “Since for few connections could be made between British ad Affrican political, social andlegal systems, British administrators set about inventing African traditions for Africans.” (pp. 212)

2 Do not designate the job of shoe production as “Buraku sangyo” that means particular occupation in buraku or burakumin generally. The shoe industry of the mainstream belongs to managing of the general public. In some buraku, some burakumin engaged in shoe making as a craftsmen and retailers. Burku that have industry shoe making were very few. In fukuyama city, the population of shoe craftsmen were about 20 in the 1960’s. Nevertheless, a discourse of “Buraku sangyo” by academy influences the recognition of buraku. In short, the deference between the reality and the imagination cause this discourse. Fundamentally, the occupation of mainstream in buraku was the day laborer and various Job. In Hiroshima city, there were many burakumin who engaged in shoe sroduction. However, their businesses were repair or reform shoes from crashed shoes from military. It was impossible to designate as a “industry” in correct meaning.

3 The leather industries including shoe making are not traditional buraku production. Most of them started after the Meiji restruction. In fukuyama city, it began more late. Probably, it was after the 1930’s, and when it reached full bloom was after 1950’s. In other ward, it is said the peek was very short.

4 Some Japanese dislike treating meat and leather that related butchering still now. They said that these businesses contain some filth elements. However, they love eat meat and wear leather products. When they discriminate people who work in slaughters house and shoe making studio then never consider they are user if them. This contradiction of the people’s sentiment makes buraku discrimination hard more.

5 The economy gap in buraku is becoming the serious issue today. It should be considered how the economy gap affect to condition of discrimination.

6 The brokers, upper men, sole men were in strong ties. In addition, there were many material suppliers. However, shoetree builders did not exist in Fukutama. Generally, shoetree is one of essential goods for each client. However, in Fukuyama, an amended shoetree was used for every.

7 Old Fukuyama city has 24 buraku including these 3 districts. It is unclear why shoe making began in these 3 buraku only. At any rate, shoe making was not popular for “burku sangyo”, and became popular for a discourse.

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