translated and edited by Brett Larner and Mika Tokairin
Master craftsman Hitoshi Mimura (60), the man who made custom shoes for the likes of baseball's Ichiro Suzuki (Seattle Mariners) and Olympic marathon gold medalists Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi (Team Sysmex), retired from Asics on Mar. 31 after 42 years with the company. Mimura now plans to launch his own new brand, Mimura Shoes, from a workshop in Kakogawa, Hyogo Prefecture. Certified as a 'modern artisan,' Mimura wants to continue helping support athletes from the ground up.
Even on his last day with Asics, Mimura was to be found hard at work matching careful measurements of each individual athlete's feet as he hand-crafts all his shoes. Mimura joined Asics in 1967 and began to make his customized shoes in 1974. Seko, the Soh brothers, Nakayama, Taniguchi, Arimori, Suzuki, Takahashi, Noguchi....the list of Mimura's clients over the years reads like the history of Japanese marathoning. When he left his old workshop at the end of the day his car was filled with bouquets of flowers of thanks.
Although Mimura reached retirement age, his passion for his work has not disappeared. "It's sad to have to retire, but I'd still like to pursue my dream," he said, looking toward his plans to continue making shoes by himself. He has already secured facilities for his new workshop in Kakogawa and a staff of ten, mostly family members. He hopes to launch Mimura Shoes by the summer.
Runners like Mizuki Noguchi and Yoko Shibui (Team Mitsui Sumitomo Kaijo) who have used Mimura's handmade shoes in the past are still contracted by Asics. "I can't ignore it when an athlete calls me for help," he says. For this reason, even in April he will be returning to Asics' offices several times a week to help existing athlete clients free of charge. The Asics company, whose success as a shoe manufacturer depended heavily on Mimura's knowhow, said that they will do everything they can to continue helping their athletes as well as they have in the past. Mimura commented, "I'm not going to steal clients away from them, but if athletes want to come to me that's fine with me."
Using his unique sensitivity for making fine-tuned adjustments in shoes, Mimura gained great trust and respect among the athlete community. "When I started out I didn't know anything, but I had to make shoes for Mr. Kimihara, Mr. Terasawa and Mr. Usami. That was the hardest time I went through. When Taniguchi won (the 1991 World Championships men's marathon), his very first words after finishing were, 'I won thanks to Mr. Mimura.' That was one of the proudest moments of my career. I have too many good memories."
Mimura's reason for getting into shoemaking was simple. "In those days somebody like a schoolteacher made 16000 yen a month [around $150 U.S.]. Shoes cost 980 yen but would fall apart within a week. I thought it was an incredible waste, and I wanted to make better shoes." These 'better shoes' helped many a medalist win their prize. Although he has left the large-company world, Mimura's shoes filled with his artisan's spirit will continue to help the next generation of athletes reach the top.