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Folks in Japan thought skate tradition was harmful. Now it is going mainstream

Contributors Oscar Holland, CNN

An adolescent leaps into the air on his skateboard earlier than thudding to the bottom. Close by, his buddy rotates a board on his head whereas one other makes use of zig-zags down concrete steps.

It is near midnight and these skaters have gathered at Osaka’s Triangle Park within the metropolis’s Amerikamura (American Village) neighborhood. Flanked on all sides by attire retailers and unbiased boutiques, this has lengthy been a hub for younger creatives. But it surely additionally has a near-constant police presence.

“From the skin, this park seems to be prefer it belongs to younger individuals, however once we skateboard right here, the police at all times come,” says skater Taiichiro Nakamura, higher often known as “Chopper.”

“So whereas this place is supposed to characterize freedom, it isn’t fairly the case.”

For the previous 30 years, Chopper has been a part of the Osaka Daggers, a skate collective named after a gang within the 1986 American film “Thrashin.” When he began coming to Triangle Park within the 1980s, the crew typically clashed with native youths — and have been branded rebels and misfits by older, extra conservative elements of Japanese society.

The Osaka Daggers, a collective of skaters and artists.

The Osaka Daggers, a collective of skaters and artists. Credit score: Courtesy Osaka Daggers

At the moment, the Osaka Daggers is a various group of artists and skate boarders of all ages. And with skateboarding making its Olympic debut this Sunday, a once-niche counterculture is now a worldwide commodity and high-fashion obsession.

However whereas purists may see the prospect of mainstream acceptance as a menace to this once-underground tradition, Chopper welcomed the event.

“I do not assume our different skateboarding tradition (might be) modified by the Olympics,” he says. “When skateboarding turned an Olympic sport it expanded the scene.

“Individuals who consider in old-school types aren’t being pressured to alter their methods simply because skateboarding turned an Olympic sport.”

The Osaka Daggers merge skating with art and punk culture. Taiichiro 'Chopper' Nakamura is pictured here on the left.

The Osaka Daggers merge skating with artwork and punk tradition. Taiichiro ‘Chopper’ Nakamura is pictured right here on the left. Credit score: Courtesy Osaka Daggers

A worldwide phenomenon

Skateboarding could be traced again to 1950s America, the place West Coast surfers began attaching wheels to wood boards to be able to “surf” on land. It flourished within the 1960s, with stars from Clint Eastwood to Katherine Hepburn pictured attempting their hand on the sport.

In 1965, ABC televised the Nationwide Skateboard Championships, which noticed worldwide skaters battled it out for prizes of $500. And in a long time since, this underground subculture and informal interest has reworked right into a aggressive career and multi-billion greenback business.
Taiichiro Nakamura, who goes by the nickname 'Chopper,' has been part of the Osaka Daggers for 30 years.

Taiichiro Nakamura, who goes by the nickname ‘Chopper,’ has been a part of the Osaka Daggers for 30 years. Credit score: Courtesy Osaka Daggers

In Japan, the pattern took longer catch on, however the All Japan Skateboard Affiliation, based in 1982, helped to progressively introduce the exercise by way of browsing facilities. Chopper, in the meantime, acquired his begin in skateboarding within the late 1990s when — aged 15 — he rented his youthful brother’s board for 500 yen ($5) every week. He imitated the American skaters he noticed on grainy VHS tapes, which, he mentioned, took about six months to make it to Japan after their US launch.

Inspired to pursue an unconventional profession path by his father, Chopper practiced skating obsessively, ultimately turning his interest right into a career. After performing properly at nationwide competitions, he quickly discovered posters of himself pasted on the partitions of native skate retailers. He was then supplied a column in a month-to-month journal, the place he balanced crude jokes and anarchic commentary with extra severe explorations of the artwork of skating.

Chopper’s musings — coupled together with his punk rock look and ethos — earned him an underground following. Children involved in skateboarding typically bypassed the Tokyo scene and headed to Osaka, forming the muse of what’s now the Osaka Daggers.

How skateboarding went mainstream in Japan

Along with his slight construct, Chopper by no means thought he’d attain the identical stage as worldwide skaters. So with a lot of his American counterparts chasing greater “air” and more and more bold aerial methods, Chopper caught near the bottom and pursued modern avenue skating. He imbued his methods with a way of enjoyable, inventing strikes just like the “potato roll,” which sees him twisting his physique towards the bottom together with his board balanced on his toes.

“Chopper made individuals notice that skateboarding is not nearly copying different individuals’s types,” says Hayate Kamimura, who skates with the Osaka Daggers and works as an teacher at a close-by skate park. “It is about the way you carry out your personal creativity and invent a method that is distinctive to you.”

Olympic breakthrough

After a long time in Japan’s underground, skateboarding skilled a worldwide breakthrough in 2015. As a part of an initiative that sees host nations suggest new sports activities for the Video games, Tokyo 2020 organizers included skating on its shortlist.

The following 12 months, the proposal was formally accepted by the Worldwide Olympic Committee alongside browsing, karate and climbing. Historical past might be made on Sunday at Tokyo’s Ariake City Sports activities Park, because the very first skaters to name themselves Olympians kick off the boys’s avenue skating competitors.

Yuto Horigome of Team Japan practices on the skateboard street course at the Ariake Urban Sports Park.

Yuto Horigome of Workforce Japan practices on the skateboard avenue course on the Ariake City Sports activities Park. Credit score: Ezra Shaw/Getty Pictures

However on the subject of mainstream acceptance in Japan, there’s nonetheless a protracted option to go, in keeping with Daisuke Hayakawa, coach of the nation’s Olympic skateboarding staff. Whereas the thrill across the Video games has inspired extra mother and father to take their children to skateboarding class, he mentioned, skating in public areas continues to be frowned upon.

“There nonetheless aren’t sufficient skate parks the place we will skate with out disturbing individuals,” he mentioned. “In the event you skate on the road, it’s a must to share that area with individuals strolling by — who will get the impression that skateboarding is noisy, harmful or scary.

“That is why individuals nonetheless do not have constructive attitudes in the direction of skaters.”

Nonetheless, in comparison with the late 1990s, when Chopper and his crew began out, skaters are more and more a part of Japan’s city cloth — regardless of the continuing police presence at Osaka’s Triangle Park.

“Now we now have extra children, ladies and aged individuals skateboarding due to the Olympics,” Chopper mentioned. “The scene is certainly turning into extra numerous.”

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