For the Sake of it
Text by Andrew Pope, photography by Jake Mein
First published in Manual #38, June 2010.
The reason for this trip was to actually leave the country. New Zealand is a really cool place, but we had to get out. There are limits to how much you can get done in this pretty little country of ours, at least as far as skateboarding goes. It’s easy to sit down and talk garbage about how cool it would be to do it, and leave it at that; no more than a conversation. For once though we followed through on that bit of trash talk and after a bit of intense planning and scrounging for money we found ourselves on an erratic JetStar flight bound for Narita airport, Japan. So there we were, Adrian Vercoe, Andrew Pope, Matt Hosey, Max Couling and myself about to embark on a three week tour throughout Japan. | Jake Mein
Very little sleep and a long day travelling did little to prepare us for the intensity of Tokyo. The first few hours were surreal. Very little understanding of Japanese, and the overwhelming size and density of the city was a shock to the system. The technology and efficiency of Japan made travel easy, and even though the boys had the basics of the train system down within a few days, many unnecessary trips were still made on the Yamanote train loop. Jake, having been once before, was able to work out most things for the crew, making the ins and outs of negotiating our way around a foreign country quite simple. From the endless curb spot in Odaiba to the whoopdy-whoop sculptures of Yashio, it became immediately apparent that Japan had no shortage of pristine spots—the abundance of marble made the country a skater’s paradise. Busts were relatively low but scary when they did happen, and we had been forewarned about losing passports to cops and gnarly prison cells that, according to our tour guide Houli, are the absolute butts.
With long days traipsing about the city, eating became a very important ritual. Food joints were everywhere, reasonably affordable and everything was delicious. The trip was quickly labelled The Eat Tour. Ramen noodles, dumplings, karage (fried chicken) and miso soup were consumed often and in abundance. Beer or any form of drink you could want was only a vending machine away (which seemed to be at 50 metre intervals!). Houli was an amazing host to have in Tokyo, having lived there for 10 years and being able to speak Japanese fluently. Every day he would meet us and take us to any spot we wanted while showing us many others en route.
The weather was bitterly cold while we were there, but luckily it was dry for most of the time and we were able to get out and skate. When it did rain there were plenty of other things to do. Akihabara (dubbed electric town) was a gizmo and tech-laden haven with neon lights and every type of gadgetry the mind could conceive. It was rather overwhelming and gave the impression that modern Japanese culture was all about the latest and greatest in electronic commodities, their love of which was only matched by their love for small dogs and baseball.
After ten days of handling spots it was time for us to get on the bullet train and leave the hustle and bustle of Tokyo for sunny Osaka.
The phrase ‘big in Japan’ was thrown around a lot on the trip but with Wura this was actually the case. The entrepreneur, MC, skater and Osaka local made our time in the city a very enjoyable part of the trip. He showed us his local spots, the ins and outs of the Osaka and Kobe areas and his local food joints and delicacies. Jokingly we told him Max’s favourite skater was Corey Duffel and he replied by asking Max if he was a homosexual; this was a perfect example of his great sense of humour and fun attitude. By unanimous decision it was agreed that Wura was one of the best humans, not just in Japan, but period.
Mosey and I were roomies in Osaka and while he was quiet and tidy I’m sure he thought I was the opposite, as it came out later on the tour that he had a few sleepless nights due to my incessant snoring. Mosey did have one hiccup though, after one too many swigs on a $3 bottle of whiskey (yes whiskey is that cheap over there) things got a little messy and the vital rail pass that meant unlimited travel on trains went astray. Nevertheless Mosey persevered and didn’t let it get in the way of enjoying his time away. | Jake Mein
Apart from organising the whole trip and taking all the photos, Jake was more or less enlisted with looking after any problems or qualms we had. “Jake will sort it” was a frequent saying for us all but it never drained him. Jake had a good grasp of Japanese culture and the language. A cheeky sense of humour and the virtue of patience was rewarded on the last night of our trip when he found a Krispy Kreme donut shop (a single tear). Mos Burger and Asahi beer were also high on the list of Jake’s priorities.
I credit most of this trip’s success to this man. Any time I had a question, no matter how brainless it was, Simon would email me back with any info I needed. Lockett is a legend in Japan; he literally gets treated like royalty, which must be weird coming from Stokes Valley! Lockett had every contact sorted for us before we even arrived, so thanks to him we had a guide on nearly every day of the tour. We even got a little demo of his new passion: martial arts. Let me tell you now, he is one person not to mess with because, and this is no understatement, if you annoyed him enough he could ruin you. | Jake Mein
Armed with a bevvy in hand and an endless supply of energy, Houli was host in Toyko and was all too keen to make sure we made the most of our trip. He even took an eight-hour night bus to Osaka to spend the weekend with us. We had a lot of fun with Houli, there was a constant flow of hip hop coming from his iPod stereo, great spots and some serious nollie game. Karaoke was had and booze was sunk. Cheers Houli for letting us share an all round good time in the life of.
Right off the train we became aware that Osaka was a lot more laid back than the frantic world of Tokyo. People have more time here. The multitude of good spots continued and a flat bar session commenced on the first night, just a few metres from the motel. We ventured into the city the following day and spent most of our time trying to find a spot that no longer existed. A local pointed to a piece of grass where it used to lay—it had been destroyed a couple of years ago. Deeper into the city we found a curved rail, and Max couldn’t help himself. A couple of days later we told Wura, another one of our gracious hosts, of Max’s exploits and he laughed in amazement. He told us it was usually impossible to skate anywhere near that spot due to security. I guess we just got lucky. Wura looked after us well for the next few days the way only a local can. One of the most memorable spots in Osaka was this huge park made up of hundreds of smaller parks that each represented an individual country. Brazil had a skateable concrete wave in theirs. We got waylaid there and never made it to the New Zealand one.
We planned a day trip into Kobe, the next city over. Kobe was so good we ended up doing a second trip there. It’s a waterfront city with no shortage of skateable terrain and had plenty of friendly locals to show us around. Back in Osaka we went out for a few drinks where we saw the Japanese version of the famous Techno Viking yelling at some Americans. Wura took us to a friend’s bar where we pulled tables up street-side where drinking, smoking and general shenanigans ensued. Then off to a greasy, grinding sweatbox of a club, reminiscent of Bath Street in its prime, but on a much larger scale.
When the Japanese aren’t working (which is almost never), they’re shopping in designer department stores that litter the streets. We did a bit of shopping, with Adro being the most guilty of this pleasure, frothing whenever an FTC or Supreme label popped up. Mosey and Jake had a pretty gnarly run-in with the cops one evening. At first the police seemed set on throwing the guys straight in the slammer, but thanks to some absolute ignorance and playing dumb, a check of the passports set everything straight.
Another of our hosts in Osaka was Kanta, a jolly Rastaman with a large bag of heelflippery. One rainy day he took us out to an indoor skate park in rural Japan that was as slippery as a greased piglet, but heaps of fun regardless. A mean meal followed—cheers cuz!
Popey, or as we affectionately called him ‘Porkey,’ was ‘that guy’ on the tour. By ‘that guy’ I mean the unfortunate bastard to get hurt three days into the tour. If I dare say, it couldn’t have happened to a better person; anyone else would have been on suicide watch. Porkey looked for the positive and kept a somewhat toothy grin on his face the whole time. Pope’s inbuilt GPS saved us on many occasions, helping to keep the stress levels low and making the three weeks of travelling a whole lot easier. Cheers Porkey. | Jake Mein
No spot was safe. Max hucked and handled at every spot, collecting a buttload of footage along the way. He was always keen for a bar and a laugh, unless he was hungry. Using the principle of ‘the worse it looks, the better it tastes’ made him the most adventurous eater. Being roommates in Osaka, name games such as sauces named after skaters and Japanese look-alikes gave us no end of enjoyment. Aided by midnight beer runs, we got such gems as Ranch Campbell dressing and Tabasco Locke, as well as seeing Dave Read’s Japanese stunt double. Max was always keen and down for whatever.
Adro had a perfect balance on the trip, handling his skating during the day and enjoying the nightlife, in between shooting off large amounts of film on his plethora of cameras and spending bank at Supreme shops (at one point dropping over $300 on a pair of chinos). He even managed to pay his taxes to Nigerian club owners. Adro’s skating on the trip was heavy. He had something for every spot, never being afraid to try things and delving into everything Japan had to offer made him a great touring companion.
Osaka was stunning. On our last night we sat around the spot where Wura grew up, skating, drinking and having a good laugh. A group of skaters was there that we had met already on the trip. Local ripper Takashi Maekawa simply killed it, switch ollieing a large seat with the most relaxed form. We had a meal, said our goodbyes and left to finish up the last part of our trip. After 21 days in all, we were worn but by no means over it. Japan was kind to us, an eastern paradise that, if we didn’t already, we now hold in high regard.