The Stories Their Skateboards Could Tell


An artist, a photographer, a writer and a skate-shop owner pull back the curtain on a culture about to have its moment at the Tokyo Olympics.

Skateboarding’s history and culture in Japan is an echo of the United States — imported a generation ago, through rebellious teens skating in the dim corners of polite Japanese society. One big difference from America? Skateboarding, with all its noise and commotion, has never been welcomed on the streets and sidewalks of Japan. But that has not hindered its growth. Skateparks are popping up everywhere, skateboarding’s countercultural vibe has hit the mainstream, and Japan is expected to dominate its competitors when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo.

This new popularity is met with ambivalence, though, by some of those who were there in the early days. They were part of Japan’s first generation of skateboarders, and they still make a living from it — through photography, art, magazines and skate shops. Their hope is that the Olympics will make skateboarding even bigger, while somehow keeping it cool.


Yoshio Higai with some of his photographs at the Nike Dojo in Tokyo.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Yoshiro Higai was not quite a teenager when he first saw skateboarding in an otherwise forgettable 1976 American movie called “Kenny & Company (“Boys Boys” in Japan). It followed the neighborhood adventures of an 11-year-old who skateboarded.

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