Yishun father-daughter duo share passion for cobbling

Yishun father-daughter duo share passion for cobbling
PHOTO: The New Paper

He makes most things himself. From his cobbling pushcart and tools down to his daily-worn wooden clogs, made from used sake barrels and canvas straps from old backpacks.

He even has a solar panel to generate electricity for his mini fluorescent light and speakers for his compact disc player.

Mr Yamaguchi Taro, 67, has been a street cobbler for more than 20 years.

He is among those featured in the Everyday Stars campaign aimed at celebrating Singaporeans.

Dressed in a white long-sleeved shirt, grey-haired Mr Yamaguchi used to be a regular sight at the old Yishun bus interchange.

Now, he is stationed adjacent to the public toilet at the new bus interchange, a spot he moved to just a month ago.

He says in Mandarin: "When people want to locate me, they just look for the toilet."

Such practicality is apparent in Mr Yamaguchi , who was born and bred in Singapore.

He got his surname from his biological father, who was a Japanese soldier here during World War II. After the war, his dad returned to Japan.

His mother, a Cantonese-speaking Singaporean, remarried and Mr Yamaguchi was left in the care of his maternal grandmother from the age of six.

He says: "I grew up in a very poor family. My stepfather smoked opium and didn't work, so I didn't have the opportunity to go to school."

Despite that, he taught himself to speak, read and write Japanese.

He also speaks a smattering of other languages including English, Malay and Thai, and dialects like Cantonese and Hokkien.

Apprentice

At 12, he became a shoe-making apprentice and years later, left to set up his own business. With the help of two partners, they could then churn out 40 slippers a day.

But the business folded and he found himself as an apprentice in carpentry.

Soon, he was his own boss again, making furniture and carvings for a living.

At 27, he met his wife through a friend. Months later, they got married and she bore him three children - two girls and a boy.

But his furniture business went downhill. Then in his 40s, Mr Yamaguchi , the sole breadwinner, dived into cobbling to raise his family.

"Cobbling is easy to pick up as I have experience in shoe-making," he says.

The grandfather of two spends up to 10 hours daily mending about 30 pairs of shoes a day at his stall, earning on average of $1,000 a month.

He even works on weekends.

The only time he takes a holiday is during Chinese New Year, when he would go overseas for two weeks.

He says: "I don't feel tired. I have always been working like this."

Mr Yamaguchi 's eldest daughter, Yoko, 40, says she has not seen anyone as diligent as her dad.

She says: "He's a very disciplined man. He's punctual and doesn't make excuses.

"He has never failed to give my mother the same amount of money every day.

"When he doesn't earn enough to make up that amount, he would take from the money he had put aside to buy material.

"Even when he gets sick, he would see a doctor and go back to work."

She adds: "He's very thrifty. He would rather walk in the rain to save 50 cents for a bowl of fish ball noodles."

Mr Yamaguchi hopes to expand his cobbling business by training people to open up more stalls.

For a start, he has helped his daughter - who worked at his stall for two years - open a stall outside Northpoint Shopping Centre in Yishun.

He says: "The takings from my stall are enough for my pay but not for my daughter's pay. When she has her own stall, she has more income."

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