Being a “Western” skateboarder, and going to a distinctively foreign country, alone, on a minuscule budget, with no plan of where to stay or even what you are doing, coupled with a near inability to speak the language … all of that might seem like a recipe for disaster. But that’s precisely what I did when I attended the All Japan Freestyle Contest and the Road to the King contest in Koshigaya Lake-Town, Japan. The following is how I survived the Land of the Rising Sun as an ill-prepared freestyle skateboarder.
First thing to do after procuring transportation to Japan is to obtain transportation around Japan, in the form of a Japan Rail Pass. The Japanese train system is phenomenal and incredibly efficient. Also, riding the Shinkansen (bullet train) made it absolutely painless to travel long distance – infinitely more comfortable than a plane ride, in fact. On top of comfort, watching the world pass by at 200-plus mph just above the ground is really cool, if kind of nauseating. The 7-Elevens in Japan have everything a skater needs to survive: musubi, beer, squid jerky, Ultraman magazines, an area to consume it all, and free Wi-Fi! The food was grade A in my book, and so inexpensive that I barely had to dip into the reserves of Soylent I brought just in case I ran out of money for food. Housing was more difficult to figure out. Usually when I go somewhere to skate, I know a local skater and can sleep on their floor/couch/refrigerator, etc. However, even though I know about 30 skaters in Japan, they all have very limited space. So I ended up lodging in Shin Yokohama for part of my trip at a very nice, modestly sized (tiny) hostel for ~$120 for a week. I also spent several days in capsule hotels – small tubes just large enough to encapsulate a one-person bed.
I absolutely loved the capsule hotels. First, they were a very different experience than my usual sleeping arrangement, and second, they were super cheap. Shin Yokohama also has a really good skatepark, where a lot of extremely good skaters go to shred. Skating seemed so widely accepted that I saw infants, centenarians and every age group in between doing it. I even saw skateboarding dogs and a skateboarding cat. Nobody seemed to take skating even a fraction as “seriously” as Western skaters, but many seemed just as dedicated, if not more so. Fun appeared to be the focus of a skate session, as opposed to filming or landing a trick. Nobody seemed excluded from sessions, either. Whether beginner or legend, everyone was welcome to come “play skateboards,” as I heard it called. My Shinkansen experience was from Tokyo to Osaka to visit the Osaka Daggers at Triangle Park – a must for any “creative” skate tourist. The Daggers are legendary in Japan, from what I can tell, and they were legends in my mind before I’d even been to Japan. I showed up to Osaka’s Whatever skate shop late at night. Despite never having met any of the Daggers before, we spent hours skating at Triangle, learning tricks from each other and trying to make up new ones, all while trying to convince the cops that “we’re not skating, we’re drinking.” Though skating is accepted in many other places, Triangle Park is hilariously part of a police station plaza, directly across from a skate shop. Yes, one of the most iconic skate spots in Japan is at a police station, where skating is not allowed, but drinking is.
There are many incredible skateboarders in Japan, possibly the largest population of exceptional skaters I’ve ever seen. Among them are legends whose names have barely trickled over to the Americas. From the ’70s we had Aki Akiyama, the first pro skater in Japan. From the ’80s there was Moichi Suzuki, and the legendary Fujii brothers, Masahiro and Toshiaki. Modern legends include the young up-and-comers Ikkei and Toki, the wizard of footwork Takashi Suzuki, and dozens of females including Mic Murayama and Mirei Tsuchida. So, despite my seemingly disastrous plan, my trip to Japan was amazing. Not only did I not die, I had the honor of skating with many people who are living legends in my mind. None of them showed any sign of the arrogance or inflated ego I’ve seen displayed by many Western skaters. When I returned to my home in Las Vegas, it was with a more enthusiastic and fun approach to skateboarding. Pick up your trash, stay humble.
A special thanks to Michael Brooke at Concrete Wave Magazine
Film/Edit: Tomohiko Sumi @tomothehomeless Skater: Hirotoshi Kawabuchi @buchitokyo Laurence Keefe @laurencekeefe Naohiro Abe @naohiroabe Joji Shimamoto @jojiphoto Music: The Peros “Bobby B.Goode” NGHBR – “Sun”