Origins: The Photo That Named the Japan Air
Re-purposed from Snowboarding Mag. July 2015.

This one came ready made from our good friends over at Snowboarding. They did the leg work for this article last year so I just wanted to repost it here for any skateboarders like myself who tend not to spend much time on snowboard related media. Unlike many of the deep investigative skate nerd mysteries we tackle here at Origins, this one is as clear-cut as they come.

Tony Hawk explains: "There was a TWS article with a feature on Japan around '84. The first spread was a huge picture of a Japanese guy doing a tweaked mute air with the headline "JAPAN" above it. We had never seen an air like that and immediately started calling it by that name because the magazine layout almost named it by default. Someone should find that issue."

The dudes at Snow did just that. Here's what they found:

SB: "Well, after leafing through enough pages of old TransWorld SKATEboarding issues to make our thumbs raw, we found it. Memory can be a slippery thing, and it turns out the trick appeared in the February 1985 issue, and the photo is the little inset, not a spread. Otherwise, Hawk's recollection is spot on, and the unknown Japanese skater's unique tweak on a conventional mute grab laid the foundation for what will forever be referred to as a Japan. Inspired, Hawk began to replicate this move, and his lanky build accentuated this tweak like no one else could. Shortly after, two shots of Hawk ran in the August 1985 TWSKATE immortalizing the grab and name forever."


The page in question from TWS Feb. 1985. Inset photo of unknown Japanese skater tweaking the first “Japan” grab. Kiosai Skateboard Park, Japan. Photo: Unknown. Vol. 3, No. 1.


Full size view. If you know who this skater is, leave a comment. 31 years later, it would be rad to find out if this mystery ripper knows he was responsible for the name of one of our staple tricks.


Tony’s first ever photo of the “Japan” grab in our Aug. 1985 issue. Caption also cements the name… “Tony Hawk’s Japan airs boggled minds.” Photo: Morton. Vol. 3, No.4.


Tony’s second photo all but makes the name official—PSA style. This was fittingly the opener to a feature covering Tony’s first trip to Japan with Tracker Trucks. Photo: Unknown. Vol. 3, No. 4.

Big thanks to the dudes at Snowboarder for digging up these pages. Big thanks to Tony Hawk for helping cement one of the raddest tweaks in the book. And thanks to unknown Japanese ripper for giving birth to the Japan.  If you know the mystery skater in the OG photo hit us up in the comments. Otherwise, maybe it was just another Animal Chin sighting.

Update: 11/30/16: Mystery Solved!

A day after we posted this article, Slap Pal 'Happenstance', aka videographer/filmmaker Brett Nichols solved the mystery. After sending an email to Hidehiko Fujiwara, the owner of Japan's first skateshop in the early '80s—California Street Skateshop in Tokyo, incidentally still open today (Go support them!)—Brett got this message back within a few hours:

"His (The mystery OG Japan air skater) name is Philippe Mentone. He is Japanese/French, Born in Japan. The bowl is Musashi Skatepark at Westside Tokyo, City of Kiyose, Tokyo. But Skatepark is already gone long time ago in late 80’s. Photo is by NISI (Masanori “Devil man” Nishioka). Yeah, It’s great history of Japan."
—Hidehiko Fujiwara

Brett also learned that the photographer NISI who shot the photo of Philippe passed away in 2014.

Nisi passed away on 7/23/2014 , 62 years old. He had diabetes. Lived in Surf town Shounan area, Kamakura, Kanagawa. Originally from Kouchi, Shikoku. He was a pioneer skateboarder, surfer, writer, photographer, and oil painter. He made lots of Japanese skate media: Ollie magazine, Nation magazine, Cyxborg magazine.

Rest in Peace NISI.

As far as the OG Japan grabber, Phillip, Brett is still checking around to see if anyone can locate him. He did work at the French embassy in Tokyo but other than that the trail is cold. We will keep you posted if we manage to track him down. In the meantime, thanks for indirectly giving us one of the coolest grabs in the books Phillip. And thanks for solving this Brett and Hidehiko.

Follow Brett on Instagram: @brettenichols and check out his project Pathways.
Follow Hidehiko on Instagram: @california_street.

Stay tuned for more Origins.
Previous nerdology:
Origins of the Noseblunt with Gonz, Guy, and Julien Stranger
Gonz and Hawk: The Origins of the Stalefish
The Photo that Named the Sadplant
Origins of the Stalefish Follow Up
Skatenerdstarmaps: Kenter Canyon with Eric Dressen
Skatenerdstarmaps: School Q
COCI: Ron Chatman
COCI: Simon Woodstock
COCI: Tony Cox


A young Ali Boulala tweaks a Japan in Stockholm circa 96, Sweden. Photo: Jens Anderson. From the book Sheraton Years (2008).