Skateboarding in Japan

The Japanese skateboarding scene, and help for visiting and skating in Japan

no skateboarding in Japan
no skateboarding in Japan. Steve Cave

Skateboarding in Japan is at once the same as anywhere else, and totally different. Everything with Japan is like that. I was an exchange student in Japan over 10 years ago, and have been back many times. It's a strange little side of my life that doesn't really merge well with being a skateboarding journalist, but there it is. One thing it <i>does</i> do, though, is give me a window into what skateboarding in Japan is like. So, whether you are heading to Japan to work, to study, to have fun, or maybe even you are a Japanese skater wondering what the west thinks of your country - hopefully I can give you some insight here!

The first time I saw skaters in Japan was a few years back in Tokyo. They looked the part, but with an interesting twist - they were very polite! Of course not all skaters in Japan are friendly, but most Japanese people are far more polite than people anywhere else in the world. Don't mistake that politeness for friendliness - they might not be rude to you, but they can still hate you behind their smile. But if you are from America, most Japanese people will like you right off the bat. We're pretty cool over there.

Last spring I went to Japan for a couple of weeks to show one friend around and to meet another one who lived there. While we were there, I met a very interesting Japanese skater. He owned several old school skateboards, but only skated a little. But he belonged to a group who had set up an indoor skate park in a warehouse. A lot of skateboarding in Japan is indoors. Land is VERY expensive, and most people don't really understand skateboarding yet (once, when I went to Japan to teach English, my boss saw my skateboard and asked if it was a snowboard...).

The popularity of skateboarding is growing fast in Japan, but it still has a ways to go. I talked with Takashi Kaneko, owner of a skate shop in Fukushima, and he told me that while in America, a survey of teens ranked skateboarding as the 3rd most popular sport, in Japan it's not even on the list. Kids do think skateboarding is cool, but there's just not many places to skate. Concrete skate parks can only be found inside large warehouses, and only in the huge cities. Anything outdoors is made of plywood. Cops are also cracking down on skateboarders in Japan, and "no skateboarding" signs are popping up all over, which makes it hard. Does this story sound familiar?

Here's a short lesson on speaking skateboarding in Japanese:

  • The word SKATEBOARD in Japanese is "Suke-tobo-do". The dashes are for stretched out sylables (you could also write it "sukeetoboodo")
  • SKATEBOARDING in Japanese is "Suke-tobo-dingu" (or "sukeetoboodingu")
  • Skater is a little tough to translate. You can say "Suke-ta-", and they might get it, but probably not. It's best so say "Suke-tobo-do yatteru hito", which means "a person who skateboards"
  • Skateboarding is sometimes shortened to "Sukebo", but there's a great chance that the average person won't understand what you mean if you say it!
  • "Sugoi" is how you saw "Awesome" or "Sick"
  • "I love to skateboard" is "Suke-tobo-do ga dai suki"
  • "Godzilla ate my skateboard!" is "Gojira ga ore no suke-tobo-do o tabeta zo!"

Skateboarding has grown in interest in Japan, and there are full-blown Japanese skateboard companies, magazines, and everything. If you are planning on visiting Japan, you should check out the Japanese skate scene! Here are some websites that will help you find Japanese skate shops, places to skate in Japan, and more:

Japanese skater have shown that they can compete, and win. Skateboarding is growing in popularity in Japan, but where will things go from here? Will the country catch on and provide public parks? Will skateboarding style catch on more than the sport? Who knows, but with so much concrete in and around Japan's mega-cities and young people looking for a reason to be, there's no doubt skateboarding's there to stay.