Japanimated!


Words by Steve Stratton

Rumors of amazing spots, beautiful tropical weather and beaches, ancient culture, and nice people had been coming our way for months. Right from the get-go, the prospect of bringing the Volcom team to Japan’s southern vacation destination of Okinawa sounded like something we should do. Okinawa is part of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom, a prosperous sea-trading nation, close to China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. In 1889, it became part of Japan and was then titled the Okinawa Islands (there are about 160 islands in total), Okinawa being the largest and the capital of the region. Okinawa is the birthplace of karate as well. Today, Okinawa acts as a major tourist hub in the region with its stunning beaches and water. It also houses a huge U.S. military presence-bases and training facilities dot the countryside. The military has actually built several skateparks on the island at and surrounding its bases. That, along with lots of street spots, makes for a thriving Okinawa skate scene, local and military alike.
We arrived in Okinawa in three crews. The U.S. crew of Nick Dompierre, Brandon Westgate, Caswell Berry and me; then the Australian crew of Jake Duncombe, Chima Ferguson, Andrew Mapstone, and Choi; and finally the Japanese crew of Saito, Shouta, Bucchi, Matsuo, and Sano. These guys helped immensely, considering we were depending on our improvised sign language to communicate with people.
The Hotel Peace Land is where we holed up-be sure to ask Caswell how to properly say the hotel name when you see him. It sounds something like this: “rowtell peace ran-do.” Even our Japanese comrades were cracking up every time he said it. The hotel is in the middle of capital city of Naha, a densely populated area that made the Los Angeles traffic pale in comparison. We spent a whole lot of time on the trip in the van. We actually developed a pretty solid routine: wake up, walk to the Family Mart (Japanese version of 7-Eleven), attempt to order a pork bun (“pork-o bun-o”) or some other tasty Japanese treat, then walk back to the hotel, assemble in the vans and go. Somewhere along the way to the first spot we would inevitably stop at another Family Mart for fireworks and beer, either Sapporo or Kirin. Both of these made dealing with traffic fun. To the dismay of Sano and Saito, the guys driving the van, we pretty much had a constant bottle-rocket war going on during the trip while driving. By the end, Chima was completely won over by fireworks and is now officially a pyromaniac. He even attempted to make a plastic Buzz Lightyear fly to “infinity and beyond,” only to watch him fall into the harbor and sink.

Jake Duncombe
Jake has always been known for flying through per diem funds like no other, spending it on any random trinkets and accessories he can find, as well as sampling all sorts of foods, candies, and beers that a particular location has to offer. This trip was no exception to the rule. One morning, he fed me pancake-flavored chips from the Family Mart. That was a tasty way to start the day. Jake is constantly seeking fun, always ready to go and make things happen. On and off his board he is a constant ball of energy sampling everything life has to offer.

Chima Ferguson
Chima bought a new computer. He nearly had a nervous breakdown the first few days of the trip when he was not able to get online in the hotel. Since we could not communicate with the hotel managers, nor read the manuals in our rooms, knowing that the hotel had free Internet was a little hard to figure out. Once we got the proper cables, Chima was in his element: MySpace, Hotmail, MSN Messenger-you name it, he was doing it. When we skated, he was in his element as well. When not lighting fireworks (his newfound passion), he was smashing every skate spot the locals took us to. Chima nearly got us kicked out of the hotel for sending bottle rockets down the hallways and out the windows at the hookers bel. Yes, our hotel was next to an alley full of dodgy establishments. I asked him what he thought of Okinawa after the trip and he replied, “Beer and fireworks are featch!”

Nick Dompierre
Nick only let his hair out of his beanie a couple times on the trip. One time was when he slammed skating the rail he biggie front boardslid. The beanie was off, along with his shoe, and his board was stuck to the rail. The other time the hair came out was at a little beach we went to. He looked like the Loch Ness Monster every time he surfaced from the water. Nick’s car obsession grew while visiting Japan. He kept freaking out every time we saw a Skyline. You can’t get them in the States. He babbled about trying to import one so he could drift the sh-t out of it back in New Bedford, and he kept a count of how many we saw in the first couple days. After getting up into the 50s, he stopped counting, just shaking his head at how common they were.

Brandon Westgate
Westgate sleeps on planes really well. He just sits down, puts his head back with his mouth open, and is out. Nick and I wanted to feed him on several occasions, but in the end we let him be. Brandon sleeps so well that on the flight home from Okinawa, Caswell attempted to wake him up for ten minutes and then gave up. Brandon was finally awakened by the stewardess who got him off the plane and into the terminal. When a kid needs to sleep, a kid needs to sleep.
While Jake was a fan of the pork bun, Brandon was usually spending his time sampling the noodle or rice section of Family Mart. Family Mart always had an assortment of soba or udon noodles and various stuffed rice balls or squares. If you are really tough (truly Japanese), you would need to eat the rice stuffed with nattou: an interesting wad of gooey fermented beans. Brandon tried this once and was not feeling it.

Caswell Berry
Caswell kept waking up early. He spent his time making extremely ornate griptape designs for his boards. He made an eagle on one and a bowling ball smashing into pins on the other. I don’t think I have ever allowed myself to dedicate that much time and effort to a piece of griptape (okay, I’m lying).
When we got to Japan, Caswell was the only person to have his luggage lost. It took three days for it to finally show up at our hotel. On the first day, we had to devote some time to finding Caswell a pair of shoes to skate in. This meant a visit to the mall. Caswell and Jake ran around the place trying on hats, jewelry, and buying all the little action figures they could find in the little 100-yen machines. When we found a shop that had skate shoes, he discovered Lakais were being sold as Rakai on the racks. It was pretty funny.

Drink Machines
Everywhere we looked there were drink machines. They lined the streets. They were in hotel lobbies. They were outside 24-hour convenience stores. There were even some in the front yards of people’s houses. Okinawa’s obsession with drink machines was shocking, but at the same time, it made it really nice and easy to get something to drink. If you didn’t like one machine’s contents, you could just wait for the next one that you would encounter within 30 seconds of walking in any direction. They were stocked full of Coke, Fanta, various flavors of ice tea-wood flavor seeming to be really popular-and our personal favorite, coffee. There are always at least ten types of coffee drinks in a machine.

Dinner Spot
We found an Italian restaurant near the hotel that the guys quickly became obsessed with. We went to dinner there on three different nights. The first night we were there, we noticed they had these big massive beers with taps on the bottom. We ordered one straight away with no hesitation. When it got served on the table, nobody seemed to want to drink it. Not wanting three liters of beer go to waste, Jake quickly opted to take it down by himself. Bets were quickly placed and it was on. It took Jake about 45 minutes to take it all down, earning him 2,000 yen (about twenty dollars). The entire restaurant was obsessed with the beer, and more so with the fact that Jake was drinking it by himself. When he finished, we went outside and proceeded to puke from being so bloated. He then cleaned up his puke with jugs of water the hostess brought outside. It turns out it was the first time one of the mega beers was ever ordered. The next two visits to the restaurant called for more beer and stares from the other customers and staff.

Local Crew Thanks
Our trip was great, but that was only because we teamed up with the local crew who showed us around every day. Chris, Akinori, and all the other dudes met us at the hotel every morning and led the caravan to spots all over the island. Thanks, guys, we could not have had such a good trip without you.

45 minutes to take it all down, earning him 2,000 yen (about twenty dollars). The entire restaurant was obsessed with the beer, and more so with the fact that Jake was drinking it by himself. When he finished, we went outside and proceeded to puke from being so bloated. He then cleaned up his puke with jugs of water the hostess brought outside. It turns out it was the first time one of the mega beers was ever ordered. The next two visits to the restaurant called for more beer and stares from the other customers and staff.

Local Crew Thanks
Our trip was great, but that was only because we teamed up with the local crew who showed us around every day. Chris, Akinori, and all the other dudes met us at the hotel every morning and led the caravan to spots all over the island. Thanks, guys, we could not have had such a good trip without you.