Lovingly tailored to each customer, Sonomitsu’s handmade shoes are a superb example of Japanese craftsmanship. Cap your exploration of the charming, history-laden area of Yanesen in northeast Tokyo by visiting shoemaker Hajime Sonoda at his atelier for a personalized shoe consultation.
To escape the overwhelming frenzy of modern Tokyo, look no further than Yanesen. Centered around and named for the traditional downtown districts of Yanaka, Nezu, and Sendagi, this part of town largely escaped the devastation wrought by WWII fire-bombings, and retains much of the old-city charm lost to newer parts of the capital.
Meander through a quiet maze of streets lined with wooden houses and temples, and you will find delights on every corner: a shop that still makes its own tofu; an atelier for hand-dyed indigo scarves; a tiny gallery selling hand-thrown ceramics. Indeed, fine Japanese craftsmanship continues to thrive in Yanesen.
Shoemaker Hajime Sonoda has been crafting bespoke shoes in his charming Yanaka atelier located a hop and a skip from Sendagi Station since 2003. His offerings are largely in classic styles, such as Oxford brogues or side-buttoned ankle boots. Each pair is lovingly hand-sewn and hand-welted, made with the finest Italian or French leather.
A shoe consultation at Sonomitsu typically unfolds over 15 to 20 minutes. Choose your desired style from a range of existing designs, available for perusal on the website or from the catalogue in-store. Pick your preferred color from a rainbow of leather swatches, ranging from mauve to white to baby blue. Sonoda will measure your bare feet. Now is the time to raise any specifications or concerns about your shoes.
After six to eight months, a custom prototype will be ready for a trial fitting—conducted in person at his atelier, of course. From here it will take another two months before your shoes are complete. Unsurprisingly, these bespoke babies are expensive, and the wait time makes them the ultimate in delayed gratification. Yet none of this deters the shop’s cadre of loyal repeat customers.
What inspires such devotion for Sonomitsu’s handmade shoes? No two feet are exactly alike, and there is something thoroughly special about shoes crafted to fit your feet perfectly. Such individual attention is irreplaceable: even having crafted shoes for upwards of 10,000 customers over his career, Sonoda remembers every foot he has measured.
Machine-made shoes cannot capture the nuances of a flatter instep, or one foot slightly wider and thicker than its counterpart. Nor are they as durable. A pair of Sonomitsu shoes represents the pinnacle of Japanese craftsmanship: superbly made, they only improve with time. The more you wear them, the suppler the leather grows. The thick cushion-like inner cork layer softens, giving one the impression of walking on clouds. Sonomitsu’s shoes blend style and comfort in a way that mass-produced shoes rarely achieve.
For those who just cannot bear the wait, a small number of prêt-à-porter models are also available to take home straight away.
Book your appointment for a bespoke shoe consultation through the website. While Sonoda manages a little English, clients would be best served by having a Japanese speaker accompany them during consultations. The final product may cost anywhere from ¥45,000 to ¥100,000 and upwards, with an additional fee of approximately ¥25,000 for your own personal wooden last.