Lesser known than its European counterparts, Japan is admired among footwear enthusiasts for its premium and elegant shoes. While its contemporary shoe industry is comparatively nascent, Japan has a celebrated history of high-end craftsmanship.
Discover the best brands from Japan with our guide to the Top 10 Men’s Japanese Shoe Brands:
- Hiro Yanagimachi
- TYE Shoemaker
- Yohei Fukuda
- Eiji Murata [Main d’Or]
- 42nd Royal Highland
- Shoji Kawaguchi [Marquess]
- Union Royal
- Scotch Grain
- Rendo Shoes
- Miyagi Kogyo
You can use the links to jump ahead or scroll down to read more. You can also learn more about the Japan’s shoe-making history and industry.
Eiji Murata / “Main d’Or”
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After graduating from London’s Cordwainers College, Hiroyuki Yanagimachi first started as a shoe designer in 1999. However, he found the profession somewhat limited and soon transitioned to making bespoke shoes.
Hiro operates from his open workshop in Tokyo, consisting of seven Japanese artisans of which only five work on shoes while the other two manufacture accessories.
As well as his premium bespoke shoes, Hiro Yanagimachi manufactures slightly more affordable made-to-order and made-to-measure footwear.
Following his training under Chihiro Yamaguchi at the Guild of Crafts, Tsuyoshi Ohno founded TYE in 2011. Manufacturing only bespoke shoes, he currently works with just one other artisan who closes and makes patterns.
A traditional craftsman operating from his workshop in Taito City, prices for his highly exclusive bespoke footwear begin at around $3,000.
Before returning to Japan, Yohei Fukuda trained with reputed English shoemakers John Lobb, Gaziano Girling, and George Cleverley.
Although working almost exclusively for Hong Kong’s renowned haberdashers, The Armoury, Mr. Fukuda can also be contacted directly.
Otherwise, his bespoke service is available in Hong Kong while his made-to-order shoes can be also purchased at The Armoury’s New York Store.
A second generation shoemaker, Eiji Murata follows in his father’s footsteps who was a pattern maker in Tokyo. He initially started training at the Esperanza Institute of Footwear Design & Technique. Interestingly, this is where Chihiro Yamaguchi taught before founding his Guild of Crafts.
Before establishing Main d’Or (“golden hand” in French) in 2011, he studied at Fusao Kagami’s Kagami Shoemaking School.
Mr. Murata undertakes every single part of the manufacturing process by himself, which is a feat in itself to say the least. Given that they require 150 hours of work each, his bespoke shoes may require 18 months before they are completed. As a result, he only crafts 15 pairs of shoes a year.
Founded in the 1990s, 42nd Royal Highland is a 100% Japanese brand that was inspired by English shoe-making.
Seeking to incorporate England’s heritage into its craftsmanship, all of its footwear is made entirely in Japan by expert artisans. As a result, 42nd Royal Highland produces some of the most elegant Goodyear-welted shoes on the Japanese market.
Operated by husband-and-wife team, Shoji and Yukiro Kawaguchi, Marquess shoes was established in 2011. Shoji and Yukiro first met in the United Kingdom during their studies at the London College of Fashion. After graduating, they both headed north and worked together at Paul Wilson
In 2006, Shoji spent the next few years working in Gaziano Girling’s bespoke shoe department. When the couple returned to Japan in 2008, Shoji continued freelancing for Tony Gaziano before they launched the brand.
Shoji and Yukiro craft their shoes from workshop that they set up in their own apartment. As both are passionate about 1900s fashion, their bespoke shoes are aesthetically and structurally inspired by early 20th Century English footwear.
Established as Union Shoes in 1952, the brand represents one of Japan’s oldest existing shoemakers. In 1958, the factory incorporated the McKay manufacturing. However, it has since adopted both Bologna and Goodyear welt constructions too.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Union worked alongside premium European brands including Mallerie, Christian Dior, and Charles Jordan. In 2007, Union established a new factory in Kamagaya, Chiba, east of Tokyo.
Now known as Union Royal, the company introduced its own private brand, Union Imperial, in 2008. This exclusive range uses leathers imported from France’s celebrated Annonay as well as a unique style of Goodyear welt.
Scotch Grain was founded by a shoemaker from Tokyo’s Taito Ward in 1978. Starting as a mass production house, it employed cemented and McKay Blake stitch constructions. However, it quickly adopted Goodyear welting with a focus on quality.
Recently, Scotch Grain was recently awarded as one of the top 300 “Hardworking small enterprises and entrepreneur companies” by Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry. Today, it continues to proudly operate under the original founder’s father from its original Sumida ward factory.
Working from a single atelier and shop in Asakusa, Tokyo, Rendo started as a project that began in 2013. A graduate of Cordwainers College in London, he attended the Tokyo Metropolitan Vocational Skills Development Center on his return.
Following his studies, he worked on patterns at Central Shoe Co. before touring and working in Europe in 2007. On his return, he continued working with patterns on a freelance basis while developing his own projects.
Today, Rendo manufactures shoes using moulds that were developed by the atelier based on foot measurement data to create and well-balanced and comfortable shoe.
Miyagi Kogyo is the only brand currently featured on this list to not be based in or near Tokyo. In fact, it was first established in Higashiyonban Town, Sendai City, in 1941 and operates from Nanyo, Yamagata, today.
A Northern establishment, it was one of the first to introduced Goodyear welting on an industrial level. By 1952, it was already upgrading its old machinery with modern technology.
Furthermore, Miyagi Kogyo has been working with Barker Shoes since 1969. It even had secured the rights to manufacture and sell shoes under the English brand’s name in Japan.
Focusing mainly on ready-to-wear shoes, Miyagi Kogyo also introduced a made-to-order custom service in 2004.
Japanese Shoe-Making History
Until the late 19th Century, western shoes were relatively unknown in Japan. A largely feudal society that was threatened by European colonisation, Japan remained relatively isolated and protective of its culture.
It wasn’t until the Meiji era that the Japanese became curious of foreign fashion and dress alongside the wave of “Datsu-A Ron” Westernisation.
When Japan grew into an Empire, it quickly modernised and adopted rapid industrialisation. With it came railroads and land reform programs to prepare the country for extensive development. Meanwhile, 3,000 Westerners were hired to teach in the country’s new universal education system.
Needless to say, this Western influence and education would have a profound affect on Japan’s culture and heritage. General tastes began to evolve by incorporating western values. However, Japan still managed to retain its own identity.
Textiles was one of Japan’s first industrialised sectors, which shifted from a cottage industry to mechanised factories. In its early period, nearly two thirds of yarn was imported. However, by the turn of the 20th Century, it was mostly produced domestically.
Nevertheless, footwear was slow to become industrialised. Until the 20th Century, only the elite would wear imported western shoes. Instead, the majority would sport wooden Geta sandals or Zori flip-flops.
By the mid-20th Century, a domestic shoe industry began to flourished. Overall, factories would operate either near Tokyo or in the northern Yamagata and Miyagi provinces.
Indeed, Blake stitching and cemented constructions were often used for affordable shoes. However, the late industrialisation period allowed for most infrastructures to adopt Goodyear welting earlier in their development.
Japan’s Shoe-Making Industry Today
Overall, Japan is a relatively new market for luxury footwear. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that demand really began to thrive. Once an exclusively European tradition, bespoke shoe-making has recently flourished in Japan.
Interestingly, benchmade Goodyear-welted shoes are somewhat more expensive in Japan compared to Europe. Meanwhile, bespoke shoes are comparatively affordable and the price are quite competitive.
Nowadays, there are at least 40 bespoke shoemakers in Tokyo and perhaps nearly 100 throughout the entire country. Until recently, most shoemakers still being obliged to train in Europe.
However, a number of dedicated education centres either been established in the last few years or have garnered critical acclaim.
For instance, establishments including Kagami Shoemaking School, Chihiro Yamaguchi’s Guild of Crafts, and the Esperanza Institute of Footwear Design & Technique, are dedicated to traininb Japan’s future shoemakers.
In a true role reversal, many of Japan’s master shoemakers who began their careers in England now take on apprentices from Europe!
On one hand, this development is particularly surprising given that Japan fashion tends to lean towards more casual styles. After all, Japan is often associated with eclectic styles of Urban streetwear and the demand for allowing sneakers at the office is growing.
However, some argue that much of this gravitation towards towards casual styles is out of a desire for comfort. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the popularity of bespoke footwear has recently surged in Japan to such an extent.
Why Buy Japanese Shoes?As shown above, Japan is often revered for its capacity in appropriating western concepts and incorporating them into their cultural fibre. Furthermore, this is often achieved in a way that doesn’t compromise their own heritage and its integrity.
Similarly, Japanese craftsmanship is almost universally critically acclaimed for its meticulous attention to detail. From electronics to engineering, Japan has one of the greatest reputations for high-quality products in the world.
Indeed, both of these characteristics are noticeably reflected in the finesse of their shoes. Influenced by English, Italian, or even French shoe-making, Japan’s cordwainers have certainly developed their own unique styles that are free from the traditional codes and conventions.
The results are often breathtaking and exquisite designs made using painstaking precision. Upon seeing Japanese shoe craftsmanship, it’s easy to realise why the once purely domestic market is growing in demand towards the West.
Now that you have read about the best Japanese shoe brands and their history, feel free to explore our other related guides:
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- Top 10 English Shoes To Buy Online
- Best Custom Shoes To Buy Online
- Most Comfortable Dress Shoes For Men
- Bespoke Unit Shoe Homepage
"Great to learn finally about Japanese shoes! I'm travelling to Japan in a few months and wanted to see what shoes they have to offer. I wasn't disappointed!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★