While Yohei Fukuda was learning the art of shoemaking in London in the early 2000s he applied to work at John Lobb, one of the oldest and most prestigious footwear firms in the world. He was offered a position, but was asked if he would accept payment in shoes — not money. Somewhat taken aback, Fukuda nonetheless accepted. On starting work, he was surprised to be told that he would, in the normal way, be paid after all. “It was a test,” he says now, explaining that he thinks it may have been a way of gauging his dedication to the sacred art of shoemaking. If it was, he clearly passed.
Fukuda is now one of the most highly regarded of the new wave of bespoke shoemakers in Tokyo. And he’s on an impressive list — estimated to number between 35 and 40, it includes the world-renowned Shoji Kawaguchi of Marquess and Hiro Yanagimachi. The astonishing number of bespoke shoemakers easily tops that of similar establishments to be found in London, Paris, Florence and Milan, and it may even surpass the figure for the whole of Europe combined. The wave is still gathering strength — “Every month there is someone new,” says Fukuda. But it’s not just quantity that the capital is becoming known for. Tokyo’s shoemakers are fast acquiring a global reputation for excellence, superior service and relative affordability.