How Japanese Culture is Influencing Skateboarding

Photographer Cole Giordano and skateboarder Takahiro Morita offer a cherry blossom-filled take on the Sakura tradition.

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Jan 14 2017, 5:40am

All images courtesy the artists

What often gets lost in skateboarding photography is the idea that you’re capturing more than a trick. The process gets split into two worlds: documenting a physical feat for consumption and capturing the feeling of a moment. For his zine Sakura, designed by Mike Sikora and released in collaboration with Milk Gallery, Cole Giordano booked a cheap flight from New York City to Tokyo, to juxtapose the improvisational skateboarding of a Far East skate legend against a fleeting floral background that only happens once a year. So much a symbol of nationalism and pride that they once adorned the sides of Kamikaze fighter planes, the blooming of cherry blossoms provided Giordano and skateboarder Takahiro Morita a temporary backdrop to animate the action.

“When I booked those plane tickets I had no idea what we were going to do together,” Giordano tells The Creators Project. “But I knew that because it was Takahiro Morita, in his hometown, whatever we got would be good. He picked me up at 6AM the first day — jet lag be damned — and we went to a spot immediately. A lot of these photos were shot in heavily trafficked areas of downtown Tokyo, so getting there so early was the only way to avoid crowds. Sometimes, even by 7AM or 8AM he would call if off because there were already too many people.”

On their photography and video missions (a short film was composed by Morita and filmer Shigeta Iha to accompany the photographs), Morita explains that the sakura or cherry blossoms are the “soul of Japan,” and he sought to capture their spirit through the world of skateboarders. Part of that ideology is using the event to unite skateboarders, separated by continents. Giordano met Morita in 2013, during the premier of Parisian skate brand Magenta's Soleil Levant video in New York City. Then unfamiliar with his skating, Morita’s grace and creativity resonated with him, immediately drawing comparisons to Mark Gonzales’ artful, yet poised approach. After becoming friends, the duo worked on several photography projects, including a cover story in the November 2015 issue of Transworld Skateboarding Japan, which served as a retrospective of Morita’s career.

“There is a thoughtfulness to everything he does,” Giordano says. “When we would skate with other skaters, everyone would stop to watch him, not just to see what tricks he would do, but out of respect. I was even treated differently just for being with him.”

What the limited run print zine illustrates is a new found connectivity in global skateboarding culture, manifested in an immersive collaboration and exchange. Through Morita’s Far East Skate Network and the solidification of so many European and Asian brands, there’s more than an awareness that California’s no longer skateboarding’s epicenter, but there’s a curiosity and shared wanderlust that spans as far as an individual’s desire to explore. Assisted digitally and brought to life by interaction, the practice and art of skateboarding—specifically in the US—is seeing an advent much like the “British Invasion” on rock ‘n roll in the 60s, only more diverse.

Giordano says, “There's undoubtedly a creativity and flair that comes out of Japanese skating that I think draws people to it. There seems to be a joyfulness and playful aspect in their skating. And that quick-footed style of skating seems to have sprung from the Japanese scene to other parts of the world—To me, it just often seems like they're having more fun than everyone else on skateboard.”

Sakura is a limited edition zine by Cole Giordano, featuring photos shot with Japanese skateboarding legend Takahiro Morita.

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