By Naomi Hastings
From March 2016 up until February of this year, I had the amazing opportunity of going on a two-semester exchange program at Meiji University, Tokyo, to study Japanese language and culture. The university lifestyle was relaxed and I was able to make good use of my spare time. Everyday, I went out skateboarding, exploring the fascinating landscape of Tokyo city.
The area in Tokyo that I lived and studied in was Nakano – a busy little city with its own thriving skate community. Takahiro Morita, one of the pioneers of Japanese skateboarding, grew up and continues to work there, creating cruiser-boards in his Far East Skate Network Laboratory. The local skateshop Fat Bros ran free monthly skate workshops, setting up ramps, boxes and flat bars in front of the Nakano Council building. Midnight Express was a monthly nightclub skate event in Nakano, where the craziest, most fun-to-ride quarters were built.
It really can’t be said enough how incredible and unique the skate scene is around Shibuya. It’s a dynamic skating destination both day and night. Night skating is really popular here, as it’s the best time to skate if you want to avoid crowds, security guards and the insane heat of Tokyo’s summer. Miyashita skatepark is right in the heart of the city and Setagaya and Komazawa are too other excellent skateparks, not far away. Several stores around here also have skate-able structures inside, such as the mini-ramp inside the Volcom store, which was my go-to spot on rainy days. In Shibuya, I was able to go so many fun skate events, including the premiere of Holy Stokes and Mark Gonzales’ art show.
What really became a habit for me during my year in Tokyo, was skating pretty much everywhere I went. I would skate from my home to wherever it was I needed/wanted to go. Harajuku was an easy 30 minute skate from my house, by pushing down the main road and then crossing through Yoyogi Park. I explored the Tsukiji Fish Markets by first skating around the crowds and skyscrapers of Shinjuku, then past the Imperial Palace and then through the wealthy Ginza shopping district. One time, I skated 25km to a skatepark on the outskirts of Tokyo in an area called Tachikawa. It actually was such a pleasant journey and an amazing skatepark that I did it again a few weeks later, this time pushing switch!
With all this said, skateboarding anywhere outside of a skatepark is illegal in Japan, the biggest reason being, I think, because a lot of people there don’t know too much about it. I was once cautioned by a Japanese policeman for, in his words, “snowboarding down the street”. I’m interested to see what effect skateboarding’s inclusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games will have in Japan, in regards to its acceptance in society.
Throughout the year, I did a little bit of travelling outside of Tokyo. I visited Kyoto and was taken on a skate tour by the Manual Master Issei Morinaka. My friend Kaori, a female skater who I met at Hiroki Muraoka’s art exhibition at FTC, took me to two really cool indoor skateparks in Saitama. During my last few days in Japan, I also travelled to Hakuba and tried snowboarding for the first time.
This exchange program was an excellent and life-changing experience for me. I really recommend Japan as a country and culture to learn about and I am so grateful to everyone who helped make this opportunity so enjoyable and taught me so much along the way. Otsukaresama desu!!