Kohaze-ya is a long-established maker of tabi socks in the city of Gyōda, a northern suburb of Tokyo. Suitable for wearing with zori, geta, and other thonged footwear used with traditional Japanese clothing, tabi are split between the big toe and other toes. The company also makes jikatabi, which are those designed for outdoor use—made with sturdier fabric and a rubber sole, and mostly favored by farmers, construction workers, and other manual laborers. The family-owned business has been passed on from father to son for roughly a century, and has established itself as something of a brand name in the industry.
Fourth-generation president Kōichi Miyazawa, now in his fifties, heads up a company of 20 full-time and seven part-time employees generating annual sales of ¥700 million. In spite of the company’s solid name, sales figures have been dropping, and if current trends continue the business is on its way to being shuttered. Miyazawa decides to stake the company’s future on adding a new line of running shoes—in spite of the company having no previous experience with any kind of shoes, let alone specialized athletic footgear; they have no shoe-building expertise or personnel in-house, and no ready capital, either. The novel tells the story of Kohaze-ya’s two-year struggle to develop the shoe from scratch in the face of obstructions from global giant Atlantis, the U.S.-based sporting goods company that dominates the Japanese market.
With the company’s main bank dragging its feet on financing and Atlantis doing everything it can to trip him up, Miyazawa finds a savior in Haruyuki Iiyama, who offers him an ultra-light new material to use in the all-important soles of the shoes. Iiyama ran the company he inherited from his father into the ground, but he owns the patent to a special silk-cocoon processing technology. Coming to Miyazawa’s aid in the negotiations is the retired account manager from Kohaze-ya’s main bank, Sakamoto. Iiyama is brought into the company as an advisor, along with his “Silkclay” manufacturing equipment.
Another crucial figure is seasoned shoe-fitter Takahiko Murano, who serves as a liaison to first-class athletes. After developing a name among athletes for his personalized touch during many long years as “senior shoemeister” at Atlantis, he became increasingly disenchanted with the company as bottom-line thinking took over, and had ultimately quit after a clash with his boss. Excited by what Kohaze-ya is doing, he, too, joins the company as an advisor.
It is Murano who brings marathoner Hiroto Mogi, previously sponsored by Atlantis, into the fold. Regarded with great promise since his college days, Mogi joined the powerhouse Daiwa Foods Track and Field Team after graduation but was then sidelined for a year following a knee injury as he worked on revising his stride. Star marathoner Naoyuki Kezuka has been his archrival since college. As Mogi prepares to go head-to-head with Kezuka again in his comeback, Miyazawa believes he is the perfect representative for Kohaze-ya’s new Rikuō “Land King” shoes, and puts the entire company behind a campaign to support his return to competition and cheer him on.
The well-rounded characters quickly capture readers’ sympathies, and the meticulously plotted twists and turns ensure never a dull moment in this novel portraying the indomitable spirit of businessmen fighting to get a new endeavor off the ground against all odds.