Japan's first shoe-shining gentleman's club
Many successful people claim to have come up "from the streets," but Yuya Hasegawa really means it. "I used to shine shoes in front of Shinagawa Station for four years -- ¥500 a pop. Everyone's shoes were really dirty, and that helped me improve my skills."
Since that time, Hasegawa has polished and buffed his way up to the big time, opening the shoe shine 'lounge' Brift H (the 'H' pronounced "ashe" rather than "eightch") on trendy Koto-doori in Aoyama. His loyal cadre of customers bring their leather shoes to the second-story shop and sit at the counter while Hasegawa and his team give the shoes a serious treatment right in front of their eyes. "When you shine shoes on the street," says Hasegawa, "your position to the customer is low. So we wanted to raise the position of shoe shiners by having them stand while the customer sits."
The result is the first "shoes lounge" in Japan -- if not the entire world.
Save our soles
Brift H offers three main polishing services. The Silver course is the basic shine, involving a cleaning, sole treatment (with vinegar and orange oils), rim inking, a full polish and a serious buffing. This costs ¥1,575 and takes 20 minutes (or three days if left at the store). The Gold course takes two hours, costs ¥3,675 and adds in cleaning of inner lining plus greater "care." The Platinum course takes at least two days, costs ¥6,300 and sees the shoes thoroughly treated with creams and softeners. Brift H will also perform miscellaneous repair services, such as fixing up scratches and cracks in the leather for a few thousand yen.
"Overseas, shoe shining is just part of manners. But in Japan, it's more like a hobby for shoe-obsessives. So we want to create a culture of going to get your shoes polished in Japan," explains Hasegawa, which starts to make sense of the shop's grand pageantry. This is not just a functional shoe repair shop but a total aesthetic experience. Brift H feels like the cross between a 19th century British haberdashery and a speakeasy. The shoe shiners are immaculately dressed, the bar counter is leather and the furniture is all wooden and antique. As you sit at the bar and chat with your shoe shiner, you are given a champagne flute of either apple juice or green tea. The subsequent half-hour (or longer if there is a queue, as there was in my case) is a relaxing escape from both work life and hectic Tokyo shopping, a place to go where men can be gentlemen. (Women, for the record, make up 10 percent of Brift H's customer base.)
Shine and wine
The final product is also incredible. I took a pair of generally well-treated black leather oxfords, and Hasegawa was able to give them a shiny coat reminiscent of patent leather. Brift H is able to bring back any leather shoes from the brink, or just make sure your brand new cordovan Alden wingtips last forever.
Besides being a shoe shine lounge, Brift H turns into a makeshift cocktail bar from 8-11pm once a month, usually on the third or fourth Thursday. Check the website for the latest schedule.
Brift H: PAN Minami-Aoyama 204, Minami-Aoyama 6-3-11, Minato-ku, tel. 03 3797 0373, www.brift-h.com, 12-9pm, closed Tuesdays