- PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF T-19
- PHOTOGRAPHY: COURTESY OF T-19
Tokyo Otaki (T-19): Skateboard File VIWayne Lords, 2011/03/09
“The idea for T-19 was always in my head. What I saw when I was living in Venice [California] was just the essence of a “local style.” I had seen Venice in all the magazines- the music, the punk rock, the skulls and thought, ‘whoah.’ I thought it was- “the real thing” so to speak. It just resonated with ‘local’ and didn’t seem concerned with making a ‘statement,’ rather it was just about doing things and living in a certain way and I can’t say I wasn’t inspired by that ethic. So I tried to make T-19 something local for Tokyo- for who we were.”
From its heyday as one of the initial start up skate companies in Tokyo, Otaki has remained at the helm of T-19 Skateboards and ensured the company and team remain no less creative, defiant and community-focused. When I spent time with Otaki at the T-19 house in Setagaya, what came to the fore of my mind as the history unravelled and our conversation progressed? ‘Family.’ All the anecdotes, pictures on the walls- the house itself- seemed to echo it. So did the team hanging out and chattering in the kitchen, having drinks and eating together- or the bedrooms which were compartmentalized by operational tasks of the company- sleeping included.
Perhaps ‘family’ is a word less often associated with skateboarding than words like ‘trick’ or ‘photography,’ ‘gnarly’ or even ‘cops’ but when spending time at the house with Otaki made it clear: T-19 has history and community at its core. Otaki has been more than just involved in the skate community in Tokyo, he practically helped build and nurture it- the network, the actual skate decks, the first skate parks (with city cooperation), cross-pacific relations as well as a sense of camaraderie and respect. It was Papersky’s pleasure to hang out at the T-19 house for some story time with Otaki-san.
“You see, back in ’86, there was barely anyone left skating in the streets, you could sense the first skate bubble beginning to deflate. If you brought your skateboard to school you pretty much got made fun for still riding one. People realized it was just a fad but we would keep reading through issues of Thrasher, get excited and then go skate off of that. I remember you could smell signs of a new generation, and that meant a new direction. Some friends and I were skating in the streets of Tokyo but it felt like there were only five skaters in Tokyo. Just us. So after school we would go meet up in Harajuku where there was a Murasakisports shop. That was it so that’s where we would go. People were also skating in other areas like, in Yoyogi it was more slalom-focused skaters while other kids were skating in kyosho tengoku, the pedestrian areas created by blocked-off roads.”
Fast forward a bit and Otaki eventually got sponsored to skate and entered a few contests in North Tokyo. ”I remember it was sponsored by the skate shop Max Motion in Ueno, Betties- a surf store in Shonan and Murasaki Sports. I was skating more of a street style but soon after I dropped out of these more formal competitions.” Then, in a life-changing move, Otaki ended up moving to Venice, California on somewhat of a whim. “The owner of Betties was going to California a lot and was filming skaters out there. After watching some of that video footage- I knew that’s where I wanted to go and so that’s what I felt I had to do. I actually stayed at Jim Miur‘s house (of Dogtown and Z Boys fame) and he gave me a job in the factory. Then, I started working for a distributor and made friends with some California, skater-run companies like Real andAnti-Hero.”
In a way, Otaki, sparked a Venice-Tokyo connection and eventually made his way back to Tokyo. ”I have to say that there was too much drinking and drugs going on around Venice at that time and that was one reason why I decided to come back. I came back without any money left and found that things had changed in Tokyo- and I had little friends left. For those two or three years, I had been doing a job silkscreening at the Dogtown factory so when I came back I tried to look for a similar job but couldn’t find it. I got pretty down and felt my dream had slipped out of my hands in a way. I stopped skating.”
Around the same time, Otaki met up with illustrious Japanese skater at the time, known to most as Akiyama who was the owner of the shop BeInworks. “He was skating for a surf company back in 1975 and 1976 and would go to the US for slalom-based competitions. With his younger brother Katsu, who had actually come to visit me in California, they started the first skater-run company in Japan and started up a distribution company with the same name and it’s still running to this day. Katsu called me and said he had heard that I had stopped skating and told me that he was starting up a new company so we started talking ideas. I wasn’t pro then and didn’t get cash from companies but was in a bunch of magazines. We ended up coming up with the name Tokyo Skates. S is the 19th letter of the alphabet so we just changed it to T-19.”
“So like I said, I tried to make T-19 something ‘local’ for Tokyo- for who we were. I wanted to do that here. It was our community, and not only skaters- graffiti writers and BMX riders were in the mix too. When I first started pressing the boards, at runs of one hundred at a time, I had managed to get two riders on the team and we all rode the same team board. That was the only one I made- it had the Beinworks and T-19 logo handwritten. The original logo was made by Sk8Thing, who most people now know as the designer of A Bathing Ape. Sk8thing also made original patterns for us. Sk8thing and the original two riders, are still riding for T-19 to this day. Whenever I cruise through Harajuku, I can still see pretty much everyone I know- it’s definitely a family feeling. Here at the T-19 office, I sometimes make dinner here. People come over and hang out and watch videos together or catch up on what’s going on; the barbecues can get pretty out of hand ya know [laughs].”
“For four years I was at BeinWorks, which had their office close to Setagaya. So the local skaters would skate in the open spaces of Setagaya park. Local skaters were allowed to skate there but then we lost the right, we talked to the city government over and over. It turned into this back and forth thing, one year we were allowed to skate there and then for some months we would lose the right again. For about ten years, this has been going on. It eventually turned into a skateboard school because we weren’t allowed to skate there. In a way, I mentored this young guy Rikiya, who had wanted to secure skating in the park and starting up a school, and I told him he had to start the park and school there. Through the bureaucracy, we secured it and now every second Sunday of the month we have kids young and old, supportive parents, boys and girls in their teens coming out. It’s at about 70 kids each time and the skate school is up and running. On opening day we did a demo, but we ended up finishing up really quickly since all the kids were really clamoring to skate; they were clawing at the chance and I was so glad to see that it’s still that way around here.
The Otaki-driven Setagaya Skate Park, where the Skate School takes place, are located in Setagaya Park.