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Jimmy Lannon, ollie to manual

Words by Vivien Feil. Photography by Jean Feil.

Soy Panday, Leo Valls, Yoan Taillandier and myself went to Japan for the first time in 2007. We didn’t go together, I went with Soy, and Leo and Yoan travelled separately, but we did share the same positive feelings of shock and fascination for the place, its refined culture, welcoming inhabitants and unique skate scene. Since that first trip we have all returned as often as we could, sometimes together, sometimes on our own, building friendships with like-minded Japanese skateboarders who have also come to visit us back in France. When we launched Magenta Skateboards in 2010, our vision of the ideal skate trip was one that would take us to Japan. Two years later, with two Americans on board (Zach Lyons & Jimmy Lannon) and as we were preparing to welcome Koichiro Uehara from Osaka, Japan to the team, we decided it was time to make it happen. We had a few ideas in mind: reunite with our friends from Japan and work on a video project together, hang out with Koichiro and introduce Zach and Jimmy to Japan.

[part title="Magenta Japan part 1"]

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Zack Lyons, nosegrind.

Travelling in Japan is a very humbling experience. The first thing you notice when you travel there is how little information about the country you can access before going there. You’re going to the most technologically advanced country in the world, to the point where you’ll have trouble operating the latest models of showers or toilets, because we Westerners cannot even begin to imagine incorporating heating, radios and TVs in these sort of devices, and these people have been doing so for a while, and more. You bought your first Smartphone last year? They’ve been sending texts through a specific email address on their cellphones for a decade. These people basically live in our future. Yet they have managed to maintain their traditional values to an astonishing degree. Respect for the elders is constant, hierarchy is everywhere, no one litters or steals; your Iphone is safe on a curb in the busiest street of Tokyo (maybe because it is already outdated by 10 years and they’re laughing at it…). Despite their incredible culture and economic superiority, all the Japanese people I’ve met rank among the nicest, most curious, most welcoming individuals I have had the chance to come across. My initial impression the first time I went was, “why didn’t anyone tell me about this?" I was pleased to see the look on Zach and Jimmy’s faces over the 3 weeks we spent there, pleased that I wasn’t the only one to have been kept in the dark all these years. Most people I advise to go to Japan don’t seem sold on the idea; sometimes it takes months or years before I manage to convince them to go, telling them that they don’t have a clue about what’s really happening there. When they end up going, I know, without a doubt, that I’ve got one more follower in my Japanese conspiracy theory.

During our trip, we hit a bunch of different cities from north to south, starting in Tokyo where we stayed just long enough to store a good amount of radioactivity in our bones for the 2 weeks of superhuman energy we’d need for the trip. We met up with Japanese skate-scene guru and unsung genius, Takahiro Morita, the brain behind Far East Skate Network and LIBE clothing, who took us on a journey to a new dimension of weirdness. I won’t disclose what happened because he intends to unveil it on his live skateboarding TV show FESN on Ustream (yes, he does that as well), but I’ll give you a clue: skateboarding high as shit in costumes in the streets of Tokyo. Okay, it may seem like I pretty much gave it all up, but wait till you see the footage and then try to imagine what was going on in our heads when the guru drugged us before setting us loose in the streets in penguin suits. Most of us are still getting help from psychiatrists to try to overcome the trauma. Good memories!

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Futoshi, back smith.

After the initial stupor, when things quietened down, we met up with local friends and wandered together through the enormous city, where we realised that a week of cruising this city for 10 hours a day for a month wouldn’t be enough to grasp a fraction of what a single neighborhood of this city had to offer. We once again reminded ourselves we ought to be back for more.

Kyoto was a quick stop off, we only skated for one night (which is a good time to skate since Japanese cities are insanely busy during the day, and security is everywhere), then we drove to Osaka and sister city, Kobe, where we had the privilege to be looked after and guided by Koichiro’s video-making crew, Tightbooth Production (consisting of Shinpei Ueno, Shingo “Ogu" Ogura and Koichiro). Their work and savoir-faire is an inspiration for us. We spent some long days and longer nights skating some of what those amazing cities have to offer in terms of unique spots and memorable atmospheres. At this point already, the feeling of urgency to do as much as we could while the trip lasted was so strong that we were barely sleeping, pushing through the streets with eyes wide open. While anyone from our world would probably have furrowed a brow at a group of exhausted vampire-like adults insisting that sessions go until 7 in the morning every day, the Japanese, armed with their unbreakable samurai spirit, were more than willing to join and keep going (or maybe they are just too polite to say no and then hated us behind our back, there’s no telling). Their motivation seemed infinite and their appearance didn’t seem affected by the routine of 4 hours sleep to 10 hours skating. We, on the other hand, looked like shit. After 10 days, I took the conscious decision not to look at my reflection in a mirror anymore; not that I do too often, as those familiar with my haircut have been forced to notice many times. Soy had Oreo cookies for eyes and Leo was talking like he was on crack, telling us about each new revelation he’d just had every 5 minutes, Jimmy started hugging everyone uncontrollably and Zach was like Smeagol from Lord of the Rings. Koichiro on the other hand, was the one sleeping the least and skating the most, and he still looked like he could manage a marathon if it was needed of him. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that Loreal should be looking at Japanese genes for their next new anti-fatigue lotion instead of coconut trees.

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Leo Valls, step off noseblunt powerslide tailslide thing.

[part title="Magenta Japan part 2"]

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After Osaka, my brother Jean (who shot the photos of this article) and myself jumped on a plane back to France to continue running the company’s daily business, which was put on hold while we were away. We slept the whole plane journey and for the 3 months we’ve been back, all I’ve been doing is sleeping some more. The rest of the crew stayed for an extra week under the supervision of Uru, the boss of our Japanese distribution Kukunochi. They stopped in the small town of Shimane on their way to the southern island, Kyushu and the big city of Fukuoka. A demo had been set up in Shimane by our distributor and the local shop where apparently the fatigue was so extreme and the waiting crowd was so huge that upon seeing it and realising the impossible task of perfrming at that stage, the entire team burst into uncontrollable tears of laughter and had to be picked up from the premise by paramedics, destroying the brand’s reputation in the area forever and bringing shame upon the Western world. Hopefully they got back on track after this tragic episode when they were again released in the streets of a major city. The rest of the trip involved a lot of night skating, a citizen militia trying to take the guys down in Fukuoka, incredible spots, excellent curry and various other specialties, police interventions (which is something you have to get used to in Japan, and is easier to handle if you have locals around) and a lot of other fun stuff. Judging by the dark rings of the French squad when they came back, I understood that the last part of the trip didn’t decrease in its intensity.

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Shingo Ogura, slappy lipslide drop in.

Our motivation to put ourselves through this intensive schedule was born not only of the incredible atmosphere Japan creates and the urge of taking in as much as possible of their magnificent culture, but also because much like for our previous trip to SF that led to the SF HILL STREET BLUES 2 DVD (available in every skateshop with a bit of good taste!), our plan was to release a DVD of our trip to Japan featuring the team and all the Japanese homies. And in order to have enough material to make a DVD, you need to film A LOT of stuff and experience a LOT of things. We did film a lot of skateboard manoeuvres and got a lot of inspiration from what we saw, heard and felt, so the DVD is in the making or out as you read this. Visit our website and find out!

We would like to thank all our Japanese friends who helped us out during this trip with amazing kindness, and particularly Akinori Hagiwara, Takahiro Morita, Shinpei Ueno, Uruma Masanori, Shingo Ogura and Akira Matsusaki.

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