The Onepark Interview
Rebuilding in the wake of disaster and taking the first step to the new world.
With the fourth year about to pass since the March 11th earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in 2011, I decided to revisit an old interview I translated by Common Magazine of some friends of mine who, in the aftermath of the disaster, chose to support their community through skateboarding and build Onepark out of an old, (literally) washed-out coastal warehouse in the devastated city of Ishinomaki. After opening in 2013, they've since made it into a fully operational park with customizable sections that has also become host to live events, concerts with some big name artists, and just new life to the community in general. If there's any testament to the power of skateboarding to overcome hardship and rebuild communities, these guys are a living example. I have the utmost respect and admiration for these guys and I'm proud to be able to call these dudes my friends.
Thanks to Delicious Sendai, Common Mag, and the Onepark homies. Photos courtesy of Onepark.
From the Spring '13 issue of Common mag:
With the park officially opened and the word spreading, we asked the crew over at Ishinomaki's Onepark about their experience in the March 11th Great East Japan Earthquake, the construction of the park, and their future plans.
How did the experience in the March 11th quake and tsunami two years ago affect you all personally? What changed?
Any: That's a pretty deep question, and tough to answer.But I think the power of just being human stuck with me. That and beinggrateful. In a such an unpredictable disaster like that, both joy andsadness hit you in the same way a tsunami does. You meet people youthought you lost, and you lost people you thought made it. You stopcaring about the little things, and in a good way, you think "wellthat's life man," and keep going.
USK: When you see it with your own eyes, like putyourself in that position right..People who were with you just a minuteago are all of a sudden gone. Living and dying are just opposite sidesof the same coin, right? And you think about that pretty deeply man.It's like the things you want to do today, you should do today.
Tap: Yeah, that's a good question. To put it succinctly, just being grateful.
Yuuma: I'd have to say the connections you have withpeople. In a much different, and much stronger way than before. We lost aplace that we called home, that was our place to chill, and it made usthink about what can we actually do. We have to leave something behindfor everyone.
Pepi: You don't know how long you'll be here, so you haveto live how you want. You lose family and friends, and you realize youhave to enjoy what you do while you're here.
Pepi, Yuuma, Tap, USK, Any
How did the idea for Onepark first come up?
Any: I was asked by the landlord if i wanted to go see [the destroyed building], so I went with Yuma to check it out. It was like a "let's see if you can do it or not" kind of thing.
And of course, there was no electricity still so the whole town wasstill pitch black. And so the whole time we're wondering what kind ofplace this was and when we got there it was huge. It was like we saw thelight and it came to us, like "let's make a fuckin' park!" We alreadysaw it in our heads. The landlord asked us if it was cool that there wasno gas, water, or electricity, but I don't even think we were evenlistening anymore at that point. I just had it in my head that we coulddo it. I mean when you think about it, doesn't every skater want theirown private park? So it was like let's get everyone together quick. Thegoal has been set so let's start making moves. I was thinking like"let's put Ishinomaki on the map." It was crazy exciting. And it waspretty emotionally moving. I was hit hard by it, but I think Yuuma, youwere crying right? (laughs) It's been eight years since we made the oldoutdoor park (that was destroyed by the tsunami). And now in the eighthyear, it's a revival, and let's try to keep it going for another tenyears. I told myself I'd do it, so to me, I'm not a man if I don't.
USK: (laughs) I didn't really think about it. I just thought "For sure, let's do it. I have no idea howit'll turn out, but can't know until you try right?"
Tap: Yeah, I think because we lost our skate spot, that park in Nagahama, in thequake and tsunami it was natural. Like, hey we'll be able to skate again. Let's make a park that everyone wants to go to.
Yuuma: It was really like "Are you serious?!" I think atthe beginning, I was half doubt and half belief, kind of 50-50. But itwas an idea that came from the connection I had with these people who Ihad experienced all this together since the first park. So it felt likeif we just start from the first step, we can make it happen. When Ifirst saw the building (the future site of Onepark), me and Any justhigh fived each other. Like "Ohhhh shit!"
He said you cried too...
Yuuma: Yeah I was probably crying. The feeling hit hardman. I was just so happy. It was this destroyed building, and we didn'tknow what would happen, but we just had to do it. We lost the place thatwe had made with our own hands before, so we had to do something. Itwasn't like we just wanted to make a skatepark just for the hell of it.It was more like a sense of purpose that came to us that nobody elsefelt. At first, we were thinking it was for us, but now, I think ourrole is to build this place more for our kids, and for the kids ofIshinomaki, and base it on the fun experiences from before the disaster.
Pepi: For me it was like you really felt the joy of building our own skate park. Like word, it's cool that we can do this.
What were some of the difficulties in going to get the park built?
Any: Well, it's still difficult now, but I actually feelbad for everyone else (laughs). Like you always think it will gosmoothly. But since none of us are experts, we're all just dudes tryingto make as rad a park as we can, it doesn't always go as planned. Andthat goes for everything. Like you think it's supposed to be one way,but it ends up being totally different. But after having grown from thisexperience, I don't think that there's anything that's beenparticularly difficult. Rather, it's pretty fun. Even the stuff that'stroublesome, I wouldn't call it difficult. Now maybe something likegetting everyone together, that's a pain. Everyone's too free (laughs).But I guess that's how everyone continues to grow, yeah?
I would also say though that deciding the rules for the park on our ownwas a pretty tough choice. Skateboarding has no rules, and everyonewants to skate their own way (laughs). But I guess since we're onlyborrowing this building, and we want to spread skating to kids with longfutures ahead of them, we don't want to shorten the park's lifespan bybreaking our own rules. We all cleaned out and built this place uptogether. So we understand how it feels to be skaters, but we also needyou to keep it a good place to be.
USK: I'd have to go with the initial cleaning of thebuilding. So like the cleanup in the direct aftermath of the tsunami.Even though we were making progress, the feeling that the disasterwasn't really behind us made it difficult. The waste and coal, andrubble. And cleaning up without any source of water was hard. But Iguess it just meant we wanted to skate and do what we love that muchmore. If we didn't do it, it would've never gotten cleaned.
Tap: I would have to say the whole getting along witheveryone thing. It's annoying (laughs). Everybody has their own way ofthinking, call it motivation I guess? But anyway, everyone is different,so their energy and willingness to work is all different. So I thinkgaps form from those differences and can push people apart. Like "why amI doing all the work when that dude's not doing anything" you know? Itcan get like that, and that can be rough. I'd also say money. None of usparticularly have a lot of it, and there was no one who would put down alot of money for us at the beginning. Obviously you could do it ifyou've got the money. A lot of things are like that. Prepping theequipment and doing the construction for sure. But as much as we can, wetry to do it on the cheap.
Yuuma: Yeah, I'd go with the cleaning
too. The slime that was caked on there and the fish and that rottingsmell was so gnarly. And it was so rough getting the slime off ofliterally everything. And we had to do it without water, gas, orelectricity. We had to do everything with what little (and I meanLITTLE) resources we had. I work at my job at night, so working on thecleanup during the day, then going straight to work, and doing it allover again the next day on no sleep became pretty routine. I wanted topuke (laughs).
Pepi: Cleaning the floor. The coal and slime were almostimpossible to get off, so it was a real rough time. And the smell was sognarly. And disposing of all the dead fish and shrimp and shit wastough. Putting up the walls. Just getting rid of all the garbage.
From the beginning cleanup all the way up to now, how do you think the park has changed?
Any: That's a good question. I still think we could usesome more sections. I just want to build them so I'm jumping the gunthough.
But to put it simply, I think it'spretty crazy how much it's changed. In fact, I think it's so crazy thateveryone should come here and check it out for themselves. There's beenso many people in the community who have helped and supported us, soit's truly been built by everyone's strength. That's where I want to tosay it was actually me though (laughs). But it really isn't. It'severyone. We're working really hard. Us skaters at the bottom rung ofsociety are working hard (laughs). For now, we're doing it by the powerof the people. The community. A year after the earthquake, we felt thatfeeling all over again. I just remember feeling so grateful, and I stilldo. I really want to thank everyone. After the quake and tsunami, westarted as just skaters, but we've come so far.
USK: It makes me glad to see with my own eyes how far the park has progressed. And you know the parts of the park that you helped to build with your own hands. It either progressesor it doesn't. But it's progressed so far, and now we're actually ableto skate it. But it's pretty sick. In such a short time, we've been able to get these sections up, and gotten a lot done. And since it's indoor we can skate even when the weather is bad.But we don't want to get used to it and be content with our ownprogress. Gotta keep going.
Tap: I think it's great. We used our heads and came upwith something on our own, and we made it happen with the help of thecommunity. To see it really take form makes me so hyped. It's this kindof bond. It's not just skating, but it's putting in everyone's thoughtsand hard work and doing something with it. It feels good. We achievedsomething, and it's great to say we achieved it together.
Yuuma: Well, obviously you want to skate it. That momentwhen I could finally take my first push, it was like we finally made ithappen. After that, it's all so much fun that it can't be helped.Watching the park grow and getting sicker by the day has become such apleasure for me. We came from a situation where we basically had no ideawhat the outcome would be. The air was dirty, it wasn't a place whereyou could have kids around, and there were so many negatives. But wemade it this far and it's really turned from pain to pleasure. We've gotto keep thinking of the future, of our third year, of the sectionsgetting made for the opening of the park..so we're busy. In Onepark'scase, it's all going so fast. Whatever we do. And we've only got a fewpeople.
Pepi: I think it's changed so much just in the work we'vedone so far. We started on Golden Week vacation just with Any, USK, andsome volunteers. We've gone from impossible circumstances where skatingwas out of the question to stuff like putting paint on the walls. It'scompletely different. We came from working on the park today too, and injust the day's work you can see how the park is changing. It's a blast. There's still a lot of problems, but we'll look back after having finished and laugh about it I think.
So what was the feeling when you finally went from the initial cleaning toreally getting down to working on the sections and building the park?
Any: Well I think if you look at it now, it looks like it all went smoothly.But honestly, the cleanup and the construction isn't completelyfinished yet. To me, we haven't necessarily progressed as far aseveryone thinks. We're doing this on top of working normal jobs so we'vegot our hands full, you know? But to put it simply, I'm real happy.It's real sick 'cause it's like "what kind of park can we make byourselves." Everyday is an experience. Even the slightest little cleanupis progress. We're getting there one step at a time. And it's alwaysfun. Kinda makes you wanna strip down naked and dance it's so much fun(laughs).
USK: Yeah, it's really gotten to the point where we canwork on the sections without worrying about the cleanup as much. Andit's really thanks to everyone. From here on out, I just want to go andmake some sick sections.
Tap: I'm a skater after all, so more than anything I'mpsyched to skate. We rebuilt this place from the ground up. But morethan trying to bring attention to ourselves, we're having fun justbuilding stuff we want to skate. You just think about what kind oftricks you want to try on some section. It's pretty rad.
Pepi: It's so much fun to put everyone's ideas together and build somethingthat everyone can shred. We build the sections using the money from thedonation box we put out when people come to skate the park, so wereally feel this responsibility to do a good job and build something foreveryone.
Personally, what kind of section would each of you like to see as part of the park?
Any: I kind of want something weird that makes you think like "why the hellis this here?" Like those barbeque pits that were at the old Kameyamapark. Something like that would be cool. I also think it'd be pretty radto have like sharp designer lighting or something. When we filmsomething it would make whoever's watching think like "where the hellare they skating?" But like as soon as you see it, you know it'sOnepark. Just bury the place with art. Get ideas from all sorts ofpeople and always be adding more and more. In fact, I'd rather do thatthan build just sections. I'll leave the sections to the other four(laughs). But I do think that we should have a spot modeled after somefamous spot from abroad that everyone knows so it's like you can skatethat spot while you're here. I'd rather make that kind of stuff morethan just normal sections.
USK: I don't know, maybe like a slide or something (laughs). I do want a poolthough. But like an actual pool...for swimming. Doesn't have to beconcrete. And maybe an onsen (a Japanese style hot spring resort). But Iguess that's more like for like an afterspot, huh? A pyramid would besick.
Tap: Something that's easy to mess around on. I think it's because I'm an old man now. I don't want to have to pop too high anymore. And it would be something thateverybody would be able to have fun on. If you don't really have to popyour tail, even little kids can mess around on it. Rather than having topush, it'd be nice to have like a little drop in that gives you somespeed or something.
Yuuma: I think having been to a lot of spots like in New York or like aroundTokyo, I think what I would want most is a ramp where you can carve.Wood or concrete, either is fine as long as you can carve on it. Likeeven if it's just something small you can carve on in the cornersomewhere, it would be a lot different. Like that thing in the reallydeep part of the park in Sagae. We've always been street skaters. And wenever really had any big ramps to skate around here, so we're notreally like the mini ramp kind of crowd. But that's exactly why I wantit. Like it's a street park but there's also something to carve andshit. I want to get horizontal. The best would be concrete and it hadlike pool coping.
Pepi: We're in the midst of planning for the construction of a long bank, so I'mpretty psyched about that. And Tap's playground out front is lookin'fun. I want to get that done quick.
From here on out, how are you trying to continue? What kind of park are you guys trying to create?
Any: A fun one. A skateboard wonderland. Like a surprise of a skatepark.Like it makes you think "What the hell is this place?!," like Disneyland'sIt's a Small World or something. Like it's a small place but everyoneis connected to it. I really want to get riders from abroad, and bythose kinds of opportunities becoming more frequent, they'd becomeopportunities for Japanese riders too. I want it to be a place thatmoves you in some way. It's all one big surprise.
USK: (laughs) I want it to be a park with a hot springs resort. Wait, lemmethink about it a little more carefully. I do want the hot spring butyeah, I also want it to be Ishinomaki's-- my hometown's-- one park.Really as in like Onepark is the one park. I want us to do our best withthe just the five of us.
Tap: I've never had too much experience with ramps orconcrete. It's a little tough, but I especially want the little concreteplayground out front to be a place you can skate regardless of age orskill. That's basically how I feel about the whole park. I want to make apark that makes everyone want to skate. But I also kind of wantsomething weird. Something that you can't get anywhere else, like "Whatthe hell is this? No one skates this kind of thing.." That'd be prettyfunny. Like what the fuck? But I guess I'm half and half. I also don'twant to lean too far to towards crazy. Like maybe some weird stuff butthen also some normal sections. Just be diverse.
Yuuma: We're getting a lot of support
from everyone, so I want it to be a really legit park and also a reallylegit business. Because the park is starting to make some money, so wehave to correspond and make a park with as high quality sections aspossible. The young kids who come here to skate are getting real good,so when I have kids of my own, I want them to learn from the kids whowere coming since the beginning. I plan on having them raise my kids forme (laughs). If we can be like the America of Ishinomaki that wouldbe pretty sweet. Like Burnside or something. And we would be able tosay that we made that. Even when we're all old men, our kids can comeskate the park that we built.
Pepi: Just a fun park. I want to make a park that bothbeginners and experts can skate. We'll make some money from theadmission fees, and we can use that to keep maintaining the park. Athousand yen (roughly 10 USD) is probably pretty expensive, but even so,I want it to be a park you really want to skate. It's something we allbegan together, so for the third year, I want to continue making as sicka park as we can.
Evisen pro and Sendai's Bridge Skateshop owner Maru.
There's still about two months until the official opening of the park, but how are you guys feeling mentally?
Any: The official opening day is April 1st, so it could be a lie you know(laughs). But honestly, I'm pretty psyched about it. We don't have torush it. Either way, if I'm gonna quit (my job), I want to go all theway with it. That's the aim. It kind of sucks, but for now we can onlydo stuff within the ability of the five of us. We hear people's thoughtsand reactions and try to make something good. Then while we're makingit, we hear something else, so it becomes this interesting circle that Ihope will continue to spread. But since we're only doing it with thefive of us, we have no time to chill so that kind of sucks. I think ifyou come chill with us and try to help out, you'll see we're all abouthaving fun. Even the construction is fun. Even though the park will officially be open, there's not gonna be anyone there in the afternoon. Like fuck! We're opening the park without anyone there...
USK: Since it's going to be officially open, we've gottado everything we can until then. So we'll do our best to get done whatwe can.
Tap: Myself included, I think it's going pretty carefree.It doesn't look like there's any real sense of rushing it or anything.But our real intention is to make it on time. We don't want to half assit or make any compromises. If we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it onehundred percent. But we have to have the money. That's the only place wereally have to make compromises. If we have the money, we could makeprogress way faster, and make the sections perfect.
Yuuma: For now, we at least have to have the essentialsfor the park ready to go. Buy the materials and get all the designsdown. It's just straight getting to work, you know? Like I said before,since we're getting money from the customers who come to skate the park,we've gotta use it to make the best possible park we can. We want tomake a park that both beginners and experienced skaters can shred. Apark with everything, a real "one park." At a lot of parks, if there'ssome real sick people skating, you can't really skate there. But here,since it's so huge, that's not really a problem. Here, there's no realrush. Money isn't our motive. We just want this park and this idea tocontinue. Hold down the park for the first three years and then keep going from there. That's why there's no real particular rush. Even if no one comes to skate, it's a place that we built and that we can chill in, so that's good enough. But really, if I can make turnthis place into a way to eat every day, then I'll be happy. It's justthat we've got to do it, and we don't have much time so we're probablyin a situation where we might not make it. But we're gonna do everythingwe can. There's not much time until April, but the urge to finish thepark and get skating is pretty strong. I wanna shred. After all, I'm askater until the end. I'm not someone who builds skateparks. But I'llbuild one (laughs). I want to finish it up and get shredding. And I wantto play with the kids who come here. I wanna go back to the way it was(before the disaster).
Pepi: For now, I just want to meet the opening of thepark safely. Finish all the stuff we planned completely and geteverything we decided to get done done.
Thanks so much for the interview guys. Any last thoughts you want to share with the world?
Any: It's become a real surprising chain of miracles, ormaybe you could say strange connections. But that's the kind of placeit's turning in to. And that's exactly the kind of place we're goingfor. From here on out too, the more people we meet and the morereactions and thoughts we hear, it just becomes this series of chainreactions, that I hope will make it an ever better and sicker place. I'mso grateful to everyone. That's the only thing I can say right now.Whether we're doing well, or doing poorly, it's all a learning process.Like if we we're doing it right, it wouldn't have ended up like thiskind of thing. You learn from that.
But for right now, I can feel it in the air that we're doing something good.I'm really just so grateful to everyone! So much so that saying thankyou isn't enough. I want to keep expressing my thanks until Onepark isno longer here.
USK: Coming out of last year, this year was a realinteresting year for the park timingwise. From here on out, I think thereal color, the attraction, of the park is gonna start showing. It'sgonna spread. Since we'll also start saving up the money fromadmissions, so yeah. I thought this during the earthquake too, but Ijust always want to enjoy the moment, and live by cherishing every day.
Tap: I get embarrassed with questions like that (laughs).But for now, we're limited to the first three years, since the parkisn't yet in a condition that can be called fully open and functional.But skate parks are always evolving. They're built on the ideas andopinions of skaters and continue to change. And the customers, thepeople who come to skate the park, their opinions are much moreimportant than our own within the crew. But if we can all enjoy ittogether, then it's all good. This feels like I'm on TV or something (laughs).
Yuuma: What should I say?...This is a new first step forus. I just want everyone by all means to support us. But what am Isaying? You all already are.
Onepark is our first step to the new world. Come check it out.
Pepi: Thanks so much for supporting Onepark! Come on over and skate!
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