Shoeshiners plying their trade on the street has, for me at least, always seemed a rather sad spectacle. There’s the presumably meagre returns. The generally tough life of those doing the job. Plus perhaps most of all, simply the sight of a comparatively affluent man looking down at someone polishing his shoes.
A reaction that is obviously based on my own bias and preconceptions, yet at the same time it’s also somehow instinctive. Something similar, perhaps, to the facial expression of the man in the right of the frame. Although quite what he is responding to is intriguingly unclear.
I’m guessing he’s looking at the girls, that’s where I’d be looking !!
I guess so. That was my initial thought. But it’s an odd look if he was…
Dan Waldhoff says
I had a similar impression of shoe shine “boys” when growing up. That was dispelled when the shoe shiner who plied his trade next to the barber shop in the hotel where my Dad had a drug store died. The old “boy” left an estate of more than a $million in the bank – and not much else. Those coins can add up!
Blimey, that is a surprise. Lovely story too. There’s hope for us all!
Matt Talbot says
Related to that is the story of Joe Kennedy, father of President Jack and Senator Bobby, who famously exited the stock market just before the Wall Street crash of 1929 after a shoeshine boy gave him some stock tips. He figured that when the shoeshine boys have tips, the market is too popular for its own good.
Never heard that story before. Cheers. Very interesting.
Hans ter Horst says
What would he charge? At 1000 yen a pop, he only need a handful of customers a day to survive, but with the sorry state of the shoes in general in Japan, it might be difficult to get that many customers 🙂
That’s a good question. I honestly have no idea how much it’d be. And as I never wear footwear that needs polishing, I’ll probably never find out!
I wonder how many people actually need a shoe shine anymore. I suppose with the higher population of salarymen in Japan, there are probably more outside any given Tokyo train station than some random spot where I live now, but gosh, don’t people wear more shoes that don’t take to shining than ever before? Poor shoe shine guys. When I was a tyke, I remember one who was an IJA WW2 vet – missing a leg. He always wore his old duty cap, which was threadbare and hardly recognizable.
As to what that one guy is peering at – obviously it’s the yokai hanging on the pillar. Don’t you see that? You gotta keep an eye on them yokai – they’re tricksy.
That answers that then!
It certainly does seem a profession that is lodged firmly in the past, didn’t it? I’ve seen this fella before, and he does get the odd customer, but he hardly does a roaring trade. Despite that though, he isn’t anywhere near as sad a sight as the fella you saw as a youngster.
“Well… You don’t look like any lion I’ve ever seen, but… Okay. I guess I’ll take that thorn out of your, uh, paw.”
“Hurry up! I have antelope to chase and devour. And maybe a warthog. Mmmm… Warthog! Say! You wouldn’t happen to be a warthog, would you?”
Now that gives it a very different twist!
I’ve always been uncomfortable having people do things for me in a “servile” kind of way. It’s a blurry line though. In the environs of a posh hotel shoe shines are somewhat different, more akin to a barber, and somehwat more expensive I’ll warrant.
That guys eyes are definitely on the girl. Gawd knows what his expression would be if she’d turned her head and made eye contact 🙂
My mystery element of this photograph though are the thoughts of the guy half obscured by the slim pillar. He looks to have more than avoiding traffic on his mind.
Definitely. The ones in hotels have always seemed very different from those working on the streets.
I like that fella too. Hadn’t noticed him at all when taking the photo, but he’s a very interesting (not to mention lucky) addition.