Waffles in Japan
words and photos by Gordon Nicholas
Arriving at the airport, Adam Hopkins and I were pleasantly surprised by the upgrade to business class. We knew Alex Forbes at Vans must have pulled some strings for his 2020 Olympic hopefuls. Unfortunately, for Riley Boland and Antosh Cimoszko, similar luxury was not provided. They were sent to the back of the airbus along with the rest of the “regular” passengers and their vegetable lasagnas. Settling into the machine at a full recline, the 11 hours melted away with sake, shōchū (another Japanese liquor) and bento boxes. Bliss was almost upon us as we discovered how the “other half” chooses to travel. I’d recommend it.
With Tokyo 2020 looming, we set out to scout what would be in store a few years from now for these two boys from central Canada. Staying in Roppongi, which was really just a mini-American red light district, we had our first run-in, of what proved to be several, with the law. Having our camera bags searched at 8 a.m. as we headed out on our first jet-lagged morning amongst the throngs of ravaged party-bois. We hadn’t even skated a spot yet. It was easier to get a beer than breakfast at that time of day.
Loading up back on the train we headed north to Ibaraki to meet some locals and skate the Axis bowl with two goofy-footed bowl skaters. Watching Riley and Adam skate a place like that really is amazing. Nothing like the big city, Ibaraki was more of a farming village and one-store town. Here we met up with Rob at VHS mag that helped our foreign selves get back to our 200 square foot apartment. Most evenings were spent crammed watching footage and laughing at each other and their stories. The quaintness of our place was heavily contrasted with the masses of people and endless cityscape of Tokyo: always moving, never stopping. “I felt like everything was moving slower after I got back home,” said Adam.
Spring is special time for Japan. Everyone gets weird and bewitched by the cherry blossoms lining the gutter-ways. We had arrived just in time for the tourist-drawing Sakura festival, which made skateboarding somewhat difficult in the already over-crowded suburbs of Tokyo. What was certainly refreshing was the sense of security in Japan. Nowhere did we have to worry about leaving our gear, bags, or even wallets at any place. Their concern for our wellbeing was endearing. The contrast to home was striking, considering most bicycles (to which there are plenty in Japan), were locked with not much more than a carabineer, and nothing that would hold up to the bolt cutters of North American bike thieves.
Eventually meeting up with Yo Sawada, A.K.A. our “Tokyo God,” was such a boon. Everyone was thoroughly impressed with the conveyor belt sushi he brought us to. Having whatever you want on command, at a button, and then categorized on a list to remind you of what you just ate; so efficient—so Japanese. This was echoed amongst the billion or so vending machines in Japan. What I would give to have one of those on my block back home.
Ramen was as plentiful as the skate spots and we regularly sat down for a bowl. Maybe too many for Adam. Not Riley though: “Riley was always talking about Ramen for breakfast every day,” said Adam. “He could've just been trolling me, as he did the whole trip multiple times a day with little end. I still can't tell if he's serious or joking. Maybe one day.” To which Riley would so often reply, “OK, Adam, next story.” And so it went.
While dotting between camera shops, clothing stores, and ramen joints, there was no shortage of skateboard spots. Even without a guide one could find enough to skate. It really is remarkable; just do your best not to stress about getting kicked out of everywhere. For the most part, the law was mellow although on our backs at most spots. However, arriving at a temple with a big quarterpipe out front once the guards were closing up show, we held back slightly to assess the situation, only to soon realize that we were not the only ones doing the watching. As it turned out this cult’s influence also laid claim to the surrounding buildings and sneaky security guards lurked around corners and behind trees. With Adam running from pesky security hands and batons, he managed to scramble himself back to the top for what turned out to be the only other try he needed for a roll-in.
Towards the end of our stay the clouds continued to roll in and rain was upon us. But at this point it didn’t seem to matter as everyone was in high spirits from tricks landed and sights seen. Yo made sure to send us off in true “salaryman” fashion at a favourite Izakaya where the sake never seemed to stop. Almost as fast as we had landed, we were back in the sky. This time, however, it was back of the bus for all of us. See you in 2020, Tokyo.