Stüssy Japan Trip

by R. B. Umali

I was invited to join the Stüssy skate team on April 24 for a week of skating and filming in Japan. My friends at Zoo York had the pleasure of visiting Japan last year while I was taking my midterms as a senior at NYU’s film school. They all came back with the craziest electronic gadgets and a million stories to tell. Needless to say, I was jealous. My dream has always been to travel the world and make skate videos, so when Chris Ortiz called and asked if I wanted to go to Japan to put together an article for 411 Video Magazine, I said, “Lemme think about it. Hmmm … yeah!”

I flew to LAX, where I met up with Keith Hufnagel, Danny Montoya, Chad Timtim, and a bald-headed, trash-talking Blazers fan/Stüssy Team Manager named Robbie. The flight to Japan is usually ten hours of misery. But luckily for us the plane wasn’t crowded, so we got to move around, and I took advantage of the free liqs. About ten hours and a forgotten number of Jack and Cokes later, we landed at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, where we met up with Brian-san, our tour guide for the evening.

Brian-san took us on a one-hour train ride to a district of the city called Shinjuku. I was mesmerized by how big and crowded Tokyo actually is (and I live in Manhattan). During that train ride I saw at least ten brightly lit areas that looked just like Times Square, none of which I would get to visit. We carried our luggage off the train and up a set of escalators amongst a swarm of people¿it was as crowded as a New York City subway station during rush hour multiplied by 100. The Century Hotel was right across the street and oh-so plush. When we got to the lobby on the twentieth floor, we definitely knew we didn’t fit in.

Most skate-related trips I’ve been on (with the exception of a Girl/Chocolate trip last summer) have provided only meager hotel accommodations. Pro skaters are sometimes expected to sleep on the floors of roach-infested motels and perform at a demo or a contest the next day. However, this time Stüssy did a lovely job hooking it up. Everybody got their own bed, there were TV speakers in the bathrooms, anti-fog bathroom mirrors, and vending machines with beer on every floor. We were livin’!

Scott Johnston had been in Japan with the Lakai team for a week, and before our arrival he was chillin’ in a room upstairs from us with June from Zipang magazine. June had been showing Scott the hot spots, getting him hooked up with free gear everywhere they went. That night we all went out for Korean barbecue, and Brian-san enlightened us with some Japanese culture lessons.

We all woke up fairly early the next day, and the team went around the hotel with Stüssy designer Paul Mittlemen to shoot portraits for an upcoming Stüssy catalog. We’d planned to go skating after the photo shoot, but it started raining, so we went shopping for sneakers and toys instead. June took us to Shibuya, a popular shopping district in Tokyo. One thing I learned about shopping in Tokyo is that when you see what you want, you better buy it then and there, ’cause you’re probably never gonna see it again.

While I was shopping in Shibuya, I heard a familiar voice behind me, and I said to myself, “Damn, that sounds like Josh Kalis.” I turned to find a giant TV screen and speakers blasting Josh’s DC commercial in the middle of shopping district. I was buggin’! “Wait ’til he hears about this,” I thought.

We soon got tired of all the sneaker vendors and the six-level toy store, so we took a couple cabs to Supreme. We pulled up to the store to find a line of people waiting outside in the rain to buy clothes, which was a trip for me, because the Supreme store in NYC is way different. Can you imagine waiting in line to get into your local skate shop?

We walked right in, and I felt sorry for the people waiting¿I bet none of them have even heard of Keith Hufnagel. After checking out Supreme, we walked to the Stüssy store and thenit up a food mart for soy beans and tofu rice cakes. We got back to the hotel with our new goodies and met up with Chris Ortiz, who had just flown in, and who would later introduce us to the crepe shop. I memorized my order: “I’ll have one of those with bananas and strawberries, and two scoops of ice cream in the bottom, please.” We hit that spot up every night thereafter.

The following day was reserved strictly for getting footy¿the distributor had rented us a production bus and a driver for the day. The bus was dope. It had a TV/VCR, a coffee maker, a video camera instead of a rear-view mirror, and a generator, in case we wanted to break out the Ty Evans-style lighting kit. The entire team skated good that day, even though we got kicked out of practically everywhere. That night we were introduced to the Japanese cuisine known as Shabu-Shabu, which I highly recommend if you eat meat and are sick of sushi.

Our third night in Tokyo, we had yet to experience the nightlife. I was down to go out and party, ’cause at midnight it would be my birthday. Scott was down, too, but everybody else felt tired from skating all day, so his motivation quickly diminished. That’s cool, though, because the next night, Friday, everybody planned on going to Club Harlem to see Grandmaster Flash spin.

I felt like treating myself to something good this birthday, so the next morning I woke up early and took a trip to Electric City with Ortiz and Danny Montoya, where I spent most of my per diem on electronics. I bought mad gadgets¿I was psyched. After Electric City, we did a demo for twenty kids at Wicked Skatepark in the middle of nowhere. We then decided to get back to Tokyo in hopes of getting some daylight footy, but the sun headed down quickly. A Japanese photographer name Rip tagged along with us while we went skating and got kicked out again and again. We met up with a group of Australian skaters who offered lots of money for our used skate products, and after dark we went back to the hotel and got into party mode. It was on!

My man June hooked us up. We got into Club “Har-rem” with no problems and plenty of drink tickets. I got tore up from the floor up, and a few hours later the club was packed. Grandmaster “Frash” was spinning, and so was I.

“Where the hell is everybody?”

I took a 30-dollar cab ride back to the hotel and passed out. Moments later Scott, Ortiz, and Huf burst into the room to give me my birthday beating. We wrecked shop in the hotel hallway at 5:00 a.m.

I woke up early with no hangover. Everybody was chilling until our afternoon photo shoot with famous fashion-photographer Jeurgen Teller, but Timtim and Montoya were down to get some footage for breakfast, so we went out and Timtim finally got a line in front of the police station. Then we were off to the Hilton to meet up with Jeurgen, his photo crew, and some Stüssy execs.

The photo shoot was interesting because the crew obviously knew very little about skateboarding, so we had to give them input on what would look cool. We were under the impression that they had previously scouted some locations to shoot portraits of the team, but when they told us they wanted action shots at spots where we wouldn’t last five minutes, the team opted to find a cool-looking street to just push around. Tokyo is a very colorful and visually stimulating city¿it didn’t take long to find two suitable locations. Jeurgen and his crew got busy.

Our last night in Tokyo, we needed some last-minute bangers for the video, so the team went back to the hotel to get ready for an evening of filming. First we hit up this huge street gap with bumps on both sides, which Huf ollied on a previous Japan trip. This time he was gonna document it properly¿and he made it, no problem. After that, we were off to the double-set. We rolled three cabs deep to the same skate spot that we’d been getting kicked out of three times a day. Seconds after we showed up, an army of kids arrived to watch Timtim warm up for the switch frontside flip. A security guard soon came out, making Xs with his arms, signaling for us to leave. We acted like we were going across the street and came right back when the guard went back in.

Then two guards came out, and somehow June from Zipang and Shin from Stüssy Japan convinced the guards to just chill, so they let us skate. It was a blessing, because seconds later Timtim was rolling away clean, and the kids were screaming for more.

The following morning we packed up early, said good-bye to the Century Hotel, got on the bullet train, and headed toward the B7 Skatepark four hours away. Upon arriving at the park, all the kids there to see the demo set off fireworks. Mr. Morimoto at B7 hooked us up with lots of hospitality and a big table of food. A fat shout-out goes to him and the crew at B7 for their hospitality. We took a three-hour train ride to our new hotel next to Jack’s Skateshop, where the Stüssy team had an autograph-signing at 10:00 a.m. the following morning. That night we went out to dinner and straight to bed in order to wake up in time for the signing. Then it was off to the airport for a long night of flying back to the States.

I had the best time in Japan with the Stüssy team. Everybody we met was super cool, and we were given the royal treatment everywhere we went. I’ve never been on a trip where everything was hooked up lovely, and the team was so psyched to skate and get some work done. I’m so psyched on the footage I got during this trip, and the 411 article is gonna be amazing.

I can’t wait for the Stüssy trip to London this August!

my of kids arrived to watch Timtim warm up for the switch frontside flip. A security guard soon came out, making Xs with his arms, signaling for us to leave. We acted like we were going across the street and came right back when the guard went back in.

Then two guards came out, and somehow June from Zipang and Shin from Stüssy Japan convinced the guards to just chill, so they let us skate. It was a blessing, because seconds later Timtim was rolling away clean, and the kids were screaming for more.

The following morning we packed up early, said good-bye to the Century Hotel, got on the bullet train, and headed toward the B7 Skatepark four hours away. Upon arriving at the park, all the kids there to see the demo set off fireworks. Mr. Morimoto at B7 hooked us up with lots of hospitality and a big table of food. A fat shout-out goes to him and the crew at B7 for their hospitality. We took a three-hour train ride to our new hotel next to Jack’s Skateshop, where the Stüssy team had an autograph-signing at 10:00 a.m. the following morning. That night we went out to dinner and straight to bed in order to wake up in time for the signing. Then it was off to the airport for a long night of flying back to the States.

I had the best time in Japan with the Stüssy team. Everybody we met was super cool, and we were given the royal treatment everywhere we went. I’ve never been on a trip where everything was hooked up lovely, and the team was so psyched to skate and get some work done. I’m so psyched on the footage I got during this trip, and the 411 article is gonna be amazing.

I can’t wait for the Stüssy trip to London this August!