Although the population of skateboarders in Japan is quite low, the look, style and image of skateboarding is, in fact, very strong. The architecture there is developed in an artful manner, making your average business or apartment building a Mecca for skateboarding. With marble banks, three-foot handrails and ledges, street skating is possible anywhere in downtown Tokyo.
Better yet is the security. Skateboarding hasn't reached the nuisance level yet, so security and police are very reasonable, and sometime unbelievable. On one occasion, the policeman sat and watched us skate before doing his duty of kicking us out by simply crossing his arms in front of his chest in a gesture telling us, "No more skating here." No yelling, no abuse.
Tokyo is based a lot around American commercialism. With Gucci, Prada, Gap, McDonalds and American restaurants everywhere, Tokyo reminded me of a huge New York City with about 15 million more people. Traveling there requires a lot of train passes, or one of the many mini-cars found there. Tokyo is overwhelmed by cars, so many people use bikes or scooters as transportation when not taking the train or taxi. Hotel space was limited, squeezing three beds into one room was very common.
Much like San Francisco, many of the houses and apartments are built upward, as there is no more space to build outward. Surprisingly, Tokyo is by the far the cleanest city I've seen ever. Even with a population of 26 million and vending machines on every corner, there were separate trash bins for plastic, cans and "other" waste on every corner. And people actually use them! Rarely did I see trash on the streets.
The Japanese seem to be the friendliest people that I've met so far. Our tour guide was a man named Rip. A photographer / skater hired by Sonik to be our guide for the week, Rip was an amazing individual and a really good skater. He was very compromising and constantly interpreting the Japanese language for us. I know some of the vegetarians on this trip really appreciated Rip's interpretations, as even the "vegetarian" food in Japan has bacon or ham in it. Oops!
Following behind our every step was the Japanese version of ESPN and TransWorld Skateboarding magazine. They literally documented everything that took place, every spot we skated, every shop we visited and every train ride we took to get to demos.
Eric Koston, Rick McCrank and Rodrigo Tx. took Japan by storm. Their presence alone excited the on-looking skaters. Several times, we were stopped in the streets of Tokyo by skaters wanting to have their picture taken with Eric, Rick and Rodrigo. Even if the team riders weren't skating, an autograph or picture was all the Japanese skaters needed to feel as excited as watching them skate.
Japan will never be the same after the first demo. Unfortunately, it had rained, leaving the ramps very wet, but the gracious hearts of the éS team didn't want to leave the 500 plus kids without a show. So, I went on an extreme tangent and pulled a ramp slide to 12-stitch eye-splitter for the kids. What an intro! After the first demo, the kids lined up to get autographs from their favorite éS riders, while I went to the hospital to get 12 stitches. No autograph signings for me that day.
The following Sunday was left open for us to skate freely around Tokyo. We found a park with angled iron on the bench ledges. After stacking them one on top of the other, Rick and Eric destroyed them with tricks like frontside nose blunt slides and kickflip 5-0's. We went to a 10 stair handrail and McCrank 5-0'ed it effortlessly. Although it takes 45 minutes to drive seven miles, the mini-vans we were in came equipped with navigation / DVD players, so entertainment was always at hand.
The next demo scheduled was on Monday at B-7 Skatepark, a really good concrete park outside of Tokyo. Unfortunately, Rodrigo Tx. was at the hospital having his hand cut apart after receiving a staff infection from a thumb jam from before we got to Japan. Close to 300 kids showed up for the demo. I stayed on the bench for this one.
Eric and Rick tore up the course, while the Japanese éS distributor riders took charge of the technical tricks. Flocks of kids surrounded Eric, Rick, Junichi and Dai Kato after the demo was done. Of course, the infamous giveaway led to utter madness and kids fighting for t-shirts, hats and stickers thrown by the éS riders. After the demo was over, we hopped back on a train and headed for Osaka, which was only three hours away. Fun.
Once we reached Osaka, we had a free day of skateboarding, until it started drizzling on us. We hit some marble ledges, which were pretty damned good. Then we mimicked the old school days of skateboarding and practiced flip tricks under a dry bridge in Osaka. We watching Eric pull every flip trick (both regular and switch) in the book. It even got me inspired to learn some new flip tricks. Nice.
The Osaka demo was great. It was at an indoor wooden park located in the middle of a huge toy store. They shut down the store for the event and we checked out the human-sized Lego men, a life-sized Yoda mannequin and other crazy toys before the demo. The park would have been better if it had been replied before the demo, but Rick and Eric still tore it apart.
Rick nailed a grind UP the handrail to nose slide down the fun box ledge, which was really far apart. Eric pulled switch 360 flips to switch 5-0's down the ledge box. Ako and Atiba even skated, pulling off noseslides and frontside grinds down the ledge box. After the demo, we were flown by plane to Tokyo and prepared for our last day.
Our last day in Tokyo was Thursday, and we all decided that we would shop during the day and skate that night, which we did. We met up with Rodrigo who looked better after being taken to the hospital every day since we left Tokyo three days earlier. It was good to see him looking and feeling better. So, we shopped and skated until it was too late to skate any longer. Besides, we kept getting kicked out of every damned spot we went to. I really enjoyed Japan and its people, the skaters and their influence. Thanks to everyone who made this trip happen.
éS Team Manager