Dirty Superstar: The Akira Imamura Interview
From BOARDKILL Issue #25
Thanks to Koseki at Boardkill magazine, Akira (@ride4myself), all the photographers, and Kenji at Advance Marketing (@advanceskate).
Photography: Shinsaku Arakawa (@shinsakuarakawa), WADAPP (@WADAPP), Makoto Ishikawa (@latitudeskateboard)
After taking the cover of issue #23, it's Akira Imamura's turn to shine as the next Boardkill Dirty Superstar. It might be because he doesn't stop skating until he accomplishes his mission like the Terminator, or because he's just freeloading off of his boss and benefactor Kenji Tanaka (of Advance Marketing) like a bum so he can skate, but whichever it is, he's earned the nickname "Skate Machine." But don't be fooled. As far as machines go, he's much too spontaneous and unpredictable. Case in point, when I asked him when he wanted to do this interview, he said right now, in the middle of a party at his boss' house...
K: So first of all, when were you born?A: February 2nd, 1985.
K: Hometown?A: I'm from Bunkyo district in Tokyo.
K: Your family hasn't ever moved?A: My parents moved there from the countryside, but since I was born they pretty much stayed put.
K: Big family?A: Just my mom and two brothers. My dad died from an illness when I was about 5.
K: Really? That’s still relatively recent though. How old was he?A: About 50.
K: Ah, he was still young, huh. How much of an age difference is there with your brothers?A: One is two years older, the other is nine years younger.
K: I see. You’re pretty close to your older brother but your younger bro is way younger, huh. Are you the only one that skates?A: Yeah. My older brother bought a complete once around the same time I started skating, but I borrowed it after breaking my own, then I snapped his too. I think he just quit after that.
K: That sucks (laughs). So what was the earliest thing you remember before elementary school?Kenji Tanaka (T): Probably losing his finger…A: Nahhh…But actually yeah, now that you say that, it probably would be losing my finger.
K: Huh? Oh shit! What happened? (Akira’s right index finger is cut off at the first joint.)
A: When I was in kindergarten, I put my hand in a blender and it tookoff my index and middle fingers. They were able to put my middle fingerback on, but it doesn’t bend at the joint anymore.
Gap to feeble. Photo: @shinsakuarakawa
K: Fuck, really?! Do you remember it happening?A: It was my brother’s birthday that day and I was trying to use the blender to make some juice in the morning.
K: Yeah?A: Someone came to the door so my mom went to go see who it was, so it was just us two little kids by ourselves. I was copying my brother and pretending to stuff the bread we were eating into the blender...
K: That’s a pretty typical, yet unexpected accident. Do you still remember the moment it happened?A: Yeah, I still remember it. But I don’t really remember it hurting. Only that I was crying and screaming afterwards.
K: So you had to call an ambulance on your brother’s birthday?A: Yeah.
T: What a shitty birthday...(laughs)
K: What kind of kid do you think you were back then?A: Well I must have been pretty mischievous if I would do something like that.
K: Probably. What'd you do for fun?A: I grew up in an apartment complex so I played in the park in front of the building with the other kids my age. Playing tag and just being outside. I even rode around on a skateboard a little. One of my friends had one. But we really only messed around on it.
K: I got you. You're not really too talkative a person now, but what about when you were a kid?A: Yeah, I probably talked way more when I was in elementary school then I do now.
K: Did you study a lot?A: Nah, I never studied. I only really studied like sociology and other stuff that I thought was interesting.
K: What about hanging with other elementary school kids?A: Yeah, there was that too.
K: What'd you do to hang?A: Jeez, who knows. Nothing special really.
K: I guess that's what hanging out is, huh. Play videogames or whatever?A: No, I was never really into games and that kind of stuff. I did play baseball on a team though.
K: Could you throw the ball with a missing finger?A: (laughs) Yeah, but they would all end up being curve balls.
K: (Laughs) Really? Are you right-handed?A: Yeah.
K: But if you were missing a finger since kindergarten, no one ever any told you to try changing what hand you use?A: Yeah, my parents mentioned something like that, but I never thought it was a big deal so I didn't bother.
K: Were you serious about baseball?A: Yeah, I played a lot.
K: Really? So did you join the team when you got to junior high too?A: No, I played basketball.
K: Huh? Why?A: When I was in elementary school, I became really good friends with a kid who played basketball who had moved in right next door to me, so I started playing a little in elementary school too so that was probably the reason. And there wasn't any baseball team at my junior high school either.
T: Really? Why?A: Since it was a city campus, the school yard was really small. There are a lot of schools in Tokyo like that.
T: Huh...Hard to imagine a school without a baseball team. Even in a big city.
K: Seriously. So you were serious about basketball?A: Yeah.
K: You play in the games pretty regularly?A: Yeah, I was a regular. I was the team sub-captain.
K: Nice.T: Could you make any shots without a finger?A: I sucked at shooting. I was a short kid too.
No comply over. Photo: @WADAPP
T: I do remember one time when we were skating through the city, and we passed that basketball court. Someone left a ball there so Akira started saying we should take some shots.K: Yeah.T: He mentioned he played when he was a kid, so everyone started trying to take some shots. Akira was like the second to last to make any in.
K: He was the one who made the challenge though...(laughs)T: Until then we had never really talked about his missing finger, but then he started joking that it was because he didn't have a finger.
K: (laughs). Did you change at all after you got out of junior high school?A: Probably. I probably got quieter.
K: Really? Why?A: I probably just started noticing girls and stuff like that, no?
K: Did you have a lot of friends?A: It wasn't like I had a lot of friends, but I had friends I was real close with.
K: Did you only hang out only from school and stuff?A: Yeah. Even if we were hanging out, it was mostly school related.
K: I got you. You ever do any bad stuff?A: I used to shoplift and shit like that.
K: What'd you steal?A: Just like candy and food.
K: Only shoplifting? You didn't smoke and do other bad shit like that?A: I never smoked while I was playing basketball, but once I started skateboarding, my homies who skated would always tell me to smoke, so that's how I started. I smoked up until about five years ago.
K: So skateboarding made you start smoking (laughs). Did you dress like a thug too?A: Nah, not really. There aren't too many dudes who were thugged out in my generation.
K: I guess that's around the time people started thinking b-boys were bad shit, huh?A: Yeah. That's probably right around when that started.
Backside nosepick. Photo: @WADAPP
K: Were you a fashion conscious kid? Trying to be stylish and stuff.A: Yeah.
T: He used to wear those pointed shoes you know. According to Katsumi* anyways. (*Katsumi is the founder of Evisen Skateboards)A: That was high school though!K: He was one of those prissy dudes.A: No way dude!!
K: So you were trying to be trendy from 7th grade?A: Yeah, I guess so. I used to wear Guess jeans, and Yankees hats and go shopping in Harajuku and shit. My cousin liked all that so I think I was influenced by him.
K: When did you start skating?A: Around my freshman year of high school. Until then, I was only playing school sports. I quit basketball my freshman year so I wasn't doing anything else, and my girlfriend at the time had a skateboard so I borrowed it and started skating.
K: So you had never tried until then?A: Yeah. I hadn't really messed around with it. I just had a friend I knew from elementary school who did it. I always thought it looked fun but never had time to try because I was busy with school sports.
K: Where’d you skate when you first started?A: Since I was just borrowing my board from my girlfriend at the beginning, I would just mess around a little near her house. But I went to buy my own board right after that, so really I started skating at these low ledges on Shiroyama Street next to my house. The ledges there were all waxed because people had been skating them. Jun Kobayashi, Hiro “Tom” Kikuta, and a bunch of other dudes my age would go there too. Tom was on the basketball team with me, but he had been skating before I got into it.
K: Tom is your teammate on Color Communications, right? So what kind of places were you skating before you started shredding Ikebukuro*? (*Ikebukuro is a major urban hub of Tokyo.)A: Normally, we’d all just skate around Shiroyama Street spots. We’d hit the banks over towards Asakusa, or skate Odaiba over New Years break. We’d all go to Umikaze park a lot too.
K: So when was it when you started hitting the city spots in Ikebukuro?A: Around the time I entered high school.
K: Do you remember your first time going?A: Nah, I don’t really remember the first time exactly, but that was around when we all used to skate the shit out of the park by Sunshine City.
K: Ah, who else was there?A: The regulars were probably Yuzo Kudo, Watashi Watanabe, and those dudes.
K: Ah, I see. By the way, it sounds like you started skating as soon as you quit your school teams, but were you serious about studying for exams?A: Nah, I never studied. I’ve just never really been able to. The only thing I was interested in was English, so that was the only one I studied for.
K: Really? So what kind of high school did you end up going to?A: Just some plain one in Itabashi district.
K: Just some co-ed general education?A: Yeah. At first I thought they didn’t even have a basketball team, but once I got there, I found out they did, so I joined it and stopped skating again for a while.
K: So skating was just a way to mess around for all of high school too?A: No, I worked hard at basketball and played in games and stuff, but at one point in my second year, the head coach got so busy with other stuff that we couldn’t practice for like 10 days, so I started hanging with the kids I used to skate with again. That was when I got really hooked, so I quit basketball pretty much on the spot. The coach wanted to make me captain though, so he really tried to stop me from quitting though.
K: Naturally (laughs). He probably was worried what the hell you were doing instead.A: Yeah. Well, I’m the type of dude to get heavy into things I like.
K: Yeah, we know (laughs)! Was it those ten days that basically made you decide that skateboarding was all you wanted to do so you should quit?A: Yeah. Didn’t you just think like “this is so fucking fun!” and get heavy into it?
K: But you didn’t think that your freshman year?A: Yeah. Apparently I just never got as into it until then. I was probably just carrying a skateboard around to be fashionable. Like it wasn't actually skateboarding, but I liked the clothing and culture or something.
K: Speaking of which, (Yuichi) Ohara from Color Communications said he thought it looked like you would quit skating really quickly. Like you looked like you stepped right out of some teen street fashion magazine. Wearing only the trendy stuff.A: Ah, yeah yeah (laughs). Like some Nike dunks and Supreme. That's how I dressed.
K: (laughs)T: You don't have any of that stuff anymore?A: Yeah. I wasn't really skating when I was younger anyway. Aren't skateboards supposed to be trendy or something though? Even if I went to a spot, I probably wasn't skating it.
K: So when you started high school, you weren't really trying to learn tricks?A: Yeah. I could do a couple, but it's not like I was really trying hard to learn new ones.
K: What changed your second year?A: I think it was probably because all the dudes I was skating with my freshman year were getting so sick at it. So I just thought like "fuck dude, maybe I can do that too." But really, I probably also just didn't like team sports.
K: So you got that good (laughs)?A: Well when I start doing something, I usually keep it going until a certain point and then get bored of it. But I'm still not there with skateboarding yet.
K: Yeah, I guess everyone in their teens is kind of like that. Did you you have friends at your high school?A: Yeah. I hung out with the dudes I was close with from my classes. That's why even after I quit sports and started skating, there there were still times when I wasn't just skating all the time. I had a girlfriend too. That was probably when you would spot me in hanging in Ikebukuro with those pointy shoes...Like I was trying to be all trendy and cool or some shit.
K: Yeah. I would imagine you were just a normal high school kid, but as a skater, I think you were probably a rarity. Did you do anything other than skateboard for fun?A: Nah, not really. Maybe go shopping or whatever.
K: So you had money?A: Well I worked part time at a convenience store.
K: So when did you flip the switch and really start skating like you are now?A: Well I had a girlfriend when I was in high school, right? So we dated for about two years and when we graduated, she went to a technical college and dumped me because we never really were able to see each other anymore. It hurt pretty bad so I just started focusing totally on skating to distract myself from it all.T: (laughs)A: I was like 18 years old then, so it’s been about 11 years of me going hard at skating.
K: The wounds still haven’t healed yet? (laughs)A: Nah, first I was just skating to forget about the fact that I was dumped, but before I knew it I was hooked and just skating the shit out of everything became my new mission. But at the beginning it was more like I was seriously trying to come to grips with having gotten dumped.
Crail Tailblock. Photo: @shinsakuarakawa
K: I get you. Almost like you had your priorities backwards in a sense. So what did you do right after you graduated high school? A: I worked a part time job at this ramen joint in Sunshine City with (Arktz skate shop staff and Color Communications rider) Yoji Mizusawa and those dudes.
K: You work there for a while?A: Yeah, probably about two years.
K: And you never thought to open a ramen joint of your own after working there for so long?A: Nope. Back then I wasn't ever really thinking of what I'd do in the future.
T: What about now?A: Yeah, now I think about that stuff, but I can't talk about that here (laughs).
K: I can imagine why (laughs). You work any other jobs until now?A: Yeah, I was a lunch delivery guy and did just other random stuff like that.
K: I heard from a bunch of people you were unemployed for a while before you got the job at Advance. How long were you out of work?A: It wasn't that long after I quit the lunch gig, but maybe about two years.A&T: That's fucking long dude!A: Maybe it was more like one year...
T: Didn't you not even have enough money for the train from your house to the Tamachi ledges?A: Yeah, there were times when I wouldn't have enough. Sometimes I'd push all the way there.
K: That's crazy (laughs). But why though? If you've been working since high school, you should have been able to find something, no?A: Probably.T: You don't think so? (laughs)K: I guess it's a matter of wanting to work or not (laughs). I meant why'd you clean up so suddenly? You still wanted to skate, didn't you?A: Yeah.T: Isn't it because you stopped having to spend money on skating after you got sponsored?A: Yeah. Getting new gear didn't cost any money.K: So that’s what it was…
T: Basically, once you started riding for Arktz, they supported you with even the small stuff, huh.A: Yeah, that’s true. If I could, I would have liked to get as much support from the makers as possible though.
K: So they supported you enough to clean up good, huh (laughs). So was they your first sponsor then?A: Yeah, they were the first company I rode for.
K: How old were you then?A: Maybe 18 or 19?
K: So you got on with them pretty much right after you got dumped and started concentrating more on skating?A: Yeah, it came real quick after I got focused. But it was big that I was skating together with Katsumi (Minami) in Ikebukuro at the time. He helped me out a lot.
K: Really? So who came after Arktz?A: After I got Arktz, I got on Color Communications too.
K: Word. Then what?A: I think after that was a deck brand called Blue Print which was under Hasco Distribution. Then I started skating for Vox Shoes under Advance, changed board sponsors to Evisen, and got on Paradise Wheels. Something like that.
K: Were you invited on to Evisen after it had started already?A: Nah, I was on before the brand had even launched. When I was still riding for Blue Print, Katsumi told me he was thinking of starting a deck brand.
K: Really? Back then, Blue Print was a pretty reliable brand for Hasco though. You didn’t think it would be a mistake to ride for a company like Evisen that hadn’t even started yet?A: Nah, since it was Katsumi doing it, I never thought so. I liked Blue Print too, and I thought I'd be on them like forever, but when Katsumi told me to ride for him, I was down to ride for Evisen without even thinking. I just kind of went with the flow.
K: Whoa, really?A: But really if it wasn't Katsumi I wouldn't have done that. Apparently at the time it wasn't definite that Maru (Evisen pro Shintaro Maruyama) was on the team either.
K: I’d probably have done the same if it was me. It’s probably an easy decision looking at Evisen now, but back then it was hard to tell what it was gonna be and how it was gonna roll out, you know? I think your choice paid off though.A: I didn’t necessarily hear this from him, but I think after Katsumi got married, he was just really feeling like he wanted to do something worthwhile. And for me, I want to be with people who give it everything they’ve got.
K: Yeah. So you’ve got your own pro model with Evisen now, but why didn’t it come out after you switched over?A: That’s a good question…This is just my own opinion, but I think it was probably because I had moved to Ibaraki.
K: So?A: Well, since I was in Ibaraki, I wasn’t really as visible on Katsumi’s radar, and it probably looked like I would stop skating or whatever.
K: So it made you get motivated again?A: Yeah.T: Sounds like you were just paranoid (laughs). It was definitely just ‘cause you started showing up everywhere in the mags.
K: Actually I thought that’s what it was too, but that’s a funny way to look at it, Akira.A: Anyways, Katsumi did tell me straight up that he thought it would sell if he gave me a pro model.
Ollie up to frontside wallride. Photo: @latitudeskateboard
K: That sounds about right. Whatever the minimum is, skaters who can move units are really the only ones who can get a pro model anyways. What’d you think when you first heard you’d be getting your own board?A: I was stoked. I had been taking skating really seriously after all, so that was a goal of mine. I’ll always have that now.
K: For sure. Does your family know you’ve got your own pro boards out?A: Yeah.
K: How’d they react?A: My mom still tells me all the time to quit skating…
K: Really? Ever since you started?A: Nah, after about five or six years of serious skating, she started to get all like “What the hell are you doing with your life?” And I had been unemployed for a while so I heard it constantly from her. Just like “You should really quit…”
K: Damn dude. But you showed her your pro board, right?A: Yeah, but she was just like “Ah, okay...”
K: What about your brothers?A: Yeah, they didn’t really have any reaction either. Just like whatever…
K: Jeez.A: But since I moved to Ibaraki, my mom has probably changed her attitude.
K: Really?A: Yeah, well since it was skateboarding that got me the job (at Advance). And I was able to get out of my mom’s house.
K: Was this your first time living on your own?A: Yeah.
T: Your mom’s probably stoked you got out of the house. She must have been worried you’d never get out, huh.A: Yeah, probably. We’re not rich or anything, so she definitely must have been feeling that way.
K: And it’s a pretty common thing now too, huh. So are you planning on not going back to Tokyo and staying in Ibaraki for a while now? Or are you trying to live abroad or something? You did go to San Francisco on your own for a couple months last year.A: Yeah, I don’t really have any vision of where I want to live right now.
K: Were you always interested in going abroad?A: Yeah, for sure.
K: You went to New York for an Evisen tour last fall too, right? You going back abroad again soon?A: I want to, yeah.
K: Where to?A: Of course I want to go back to the States, but I just want to go everywhere. Asia, Europe, Australia…For now though, I think probably somewhere in Asia. There’s probably tons of spots out there.
K: Yeah. That’s what I hear. To wrap it this up, any big plans in the near future?A: Right now, I’m concentrating on filming for the Evisen video. I want to put everything I have into it. And I guess I don’t really have any plans for it yet, but if I get the chance to go abroad to film or whatever, I’m down to go anywhere.
K: I'm sure if you keep killin' it like you are, you'll be going again soon, eh? Thanks for this, dude.
Special thanks to Koseki and Boardkill magazine.
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