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.
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 being
grateful. In a such an unpredictable disaster like that, both joy and
sadness hit you in the same way a tsunami does. You meet people you
thought you lost, and you lost people you thought made it. You stop
caring about the little things, and in a good way, you think "well
that's life man," and keep going.
USK: When you see it with your own eyes, like put
yourself in that position right..People who were with you just a minute
ago are all of a sudden gone. Living and dying are just opposite sides
of 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 with
people. In a much different, and much stronger way than before. We lost a
place that we called home, that was our place to chill, and it made us
think about what can we actually do. We have to leave something behind
Pepi: You don't know how long you'll be here, so you have
to live how you want. You lose family and friends, and you realize you
have 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 was
still pitch black. And so the whole time we're wondering what kind of
place this was and when we got there it was huge. It was like we saw the
light and it came to us, like "let's make a fuckin' park!" We already
saw it in our heads. The landlord asked us if it was cool that there was
no gas, water, or electricity, but I don't even think we were even
listening anymore at that point. I just had it in my head that we could
do it. I mean when you think about it, doesn't every skater want their
own private park? So it was like let's get everyone together quick. The
goal 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 was
pretty emotionally moving. I was hit hard by it, but I think Yuuma, you
were crying right? (laughs) It's been eight years since we made the old
outdoor park (that was destroyed by the tsunami). And now in the eighth
year, it's a revival, and let's try to keep it going for another ten
years. 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 how
it'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 the
quake 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 at
the beginning, I was half doubt and half belief, kind of 50-50. But it
was an idea that came from the connection I had with these people who I
had experienced all this together since the first park. So it felt like
if we just start from the first step, we can make it happen. When I
first saw the building (the future site of Onepark), me and Any just
high fived each other. Like "Ohhhh shit!"
He said you cried too...
Yuuma: Yeah I was probably crying. The feeling hit hard
man. I was just so happy. It was this destroyed building, and we didn't
know what would happen, but we just had to do it. We lost the place that
we had made with our own hands before, so we had to do something. It
wasn'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 else
felt. At first, we were thinking it was for us, but now, I think our
role is to build this place more for our kids, and for the kids of
Ishinomaki, 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 feel
bad for everyone else (laughs). Like you always think it will go
smoothly. But since none of us are experts, we're all just dudes trying
to make as rad a park as we can, it doesn't always go as planned. And
that 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 this
experience, I don't think that there's anything that's been
particularly difficult. Rather, it's pretty fun. Even the stuff that's
troublesome, I wouldn't call it difficult. Now maybe something like
getting 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 own
was a pretty tough choice. Skateboarding has no rules, and everyone
wants to skate their own way (laughs). But I guess since we're only
borrowing this building, and we want to spread skating to kids with long
futures ahead of them, we don't want to shorten the park's lifespan by
breaking our own rules. We all cleaned out and built this place up
together. So we understand how it feels to be skaters, but we also need
you to keep it a good place to be.
USK: I'd have to go with the initial cleaning of the
building. So like the cleanup in the direct aftermath of the tsunami.
Even though we were making progress, the feeling that the disaster
wasn't really behind us made it difficult. The waste and coal, and
rubble. And cleaning up without any source of water was hard. But I
guess it just meant we wanted to skate and do what we love that much
more. If we didn't do it, it would've never gotten cleaned.
Tap: I would have to say the whole getting along with
everyone thing. It's annoying (laughs). Everybody has their own way of
thinking, call it motivation I guess? But anyway, everyone is different,
so their energy and willingness to work is all different. So I think
gaps form from those differences and can push people apart. Like "why am
I doing all the work when that dude's not doing anything" you know? It
can get like that, and that can be rough. I'd also say money. None of us
particularly have a lot of it, and there was no one who would put down a
lot of money for us at the beginning. Obviously you could do it if
you've got the money. A lot of things are like that. Prepping the
equipment and doing the construction for sure. But as much as we can, we
try 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 rotting
smell was so gnarly. And it was so rough getting the slime off of
literally everything. And we had to do it without water, gas, or
electricity. We had to do everything with what little (and I mean
LITTLE) resources we had. I work at my job at night, so working on the
cleanup during the day, then going straight to work, and doing it all
over again the next day on no sleep became pretty routine. I wanted to
Pepi: Cleaning the floor. The coal and slime were almost
impossible to get off, so it was a real rough time. And the smell was so
gnarly. And disposing of all the dead fish and shrimp and shit was
tough. 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 use
some more sections. I just want to build them so I'm jumping the gun
But to put it simply, I think it's
pretty crazy how much it's changed. In fact, I think it's so crazy that
everyone should come here and check it out for themselves. There's been
so many people in the community who have helped and supported us, so
it's truly been built by everyone's strength. That's where I want to to
say it was actually me though (laughs). But it really isn't. It's
everyone. We're working really hard. Us skaters at the bottom rung of
society are working hard (laughs). For now, we're doing it by the power
of the people. The community. A year after the earthquake, we felt that
feeling all over again. I just remember feeling so grateful, and I still
do. I really want to thank everyone. After the quake and tsunami, we
started 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 progresses
or it doesn't. But it's progressed so far, and now we're actually able
to 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 own
progress. Gotta keep going.
Tap: I think it's great. We used our heads and came up
with something on our own, and we made it happen with the help of the
community. To see it really take form makes me so hyped. It's this kind
of bond. It's not just skating, but it's putting in everyone's thoughts
and hard work and doing something with it. It feels good. We achieved
something, and it's great to say we achieved it together.
Yuuma: Well, obviously you want to skate it. That moment
when I could finally take my first push, it was like we finally made it
happen. 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 a
pleasure for me. We came from a situation where we basically had no idea
what the outcome would be. The air was dirty, it wasn't a place where
you could have kids around, and there were so many negatives. But we
made it this far and it's really turned from pain to pleasure. We've got
to keep thinking of the future, of our third year, of the sections
getting made for the opening of the park..so we're busy. In Onepark's
case, it's all going so fast. Whatever we do. And we've only got a few
Pepi: I think it's changed so much just in the work we've
done so far. We started on Golden Week vacation just with Any, USK, and
some volunteers. We've gone from impossible circumstances where skating
was out of the question to stuff like putting paint on the walls. It's
completely different. We came from working on the park today too, and in
just 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 to
really 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 completely
finished yet. To me, we haven't necessarily progressed as far as
everyone thinks. We're doing this on top of working normal jobs so we've
got 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 by
ourselves." Everyday is an experience. Even the slightest little cleanup
is progress. We're getting there one step at a time. And it's always
fun. Kinda makes you wanna strip down naked and dance it's so much fun
USK: Yeah, it's really gotten to the point where we can
work on the sections without worrying about the cleanup as much. And
it's really thanks to everyone. From here on out, I just want to go and
make some sick sections.
Tap: I'm a skater after all, so more than anything I'm
psyched to skate. We rebuilt this place from the ground up. But more
than trying to bring attention to ourselves, we're having fun just
building stuff we want to skate. You just think about what kind of
tricks 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 something
that everyone can shred. We build the sections using the money from the
donation box we put out when people come to skate the park, so we
really feel this responsibility to do a good job and build something for
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 hell
is this here?" Like those barbeque pits that were at the old Kameyama
park. Something like that would be cool. I also think it'd be pretty rad
to have like sharp designer lighting or something. When we film
something it would make whoever's watching think like "where the hell
are they skating?" But like as soon as you see it, you know it's
Onepark. Just bury the place with art. Get ideas from all sorts of
people and always be adding more and more. In fact, I'd rather do that
than 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 some
famous spot from abroad that everyone knows so it's like you can skate
that spot while you're here. I'd rather make that kind of stuff more
than just normal sections.
USK: I don't know, maybe like a slide or something (laughs). I do want a pool
though. But like an actual pool...for swimming. Doesn't have to be
concrete. And maybe an onsen (a Japanese style hot spring resort). But I
guess that's more like for like an afterspot, huh? A pyramid would be
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 that
everybody would be able to have fun on. If you don't really have to pop
your tail, even little kids can mess around on it. Rather than having to
push, it'd be nice to have like a little drop in that gives you some
speed or something.
Yuuma: I think having been to a lot of spots like in New York or like around
Tokyo, 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. Like
even if it's just something small you can carve on in the corner
somewhere, it would be a lot different. Like that thing in the really
deep part of the park in Sagae. We've always been street skaters. And we
never really had any big ramps to skate around here, so we're not
really like the mini ramp kind of crowd. But that's exactly why I want
it. Like it's a street park but there's also something to carve and
shit. I want to get horizontal. The best would be concrete and it had
like pool coping.
Pepi: We're in the midst of planning for the construction of a long bank, so I'm
pretty 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's
It's a Small World or something. Like it's a small place but everyone
is connected to it. I really want to get riders from abroad, and by
those kinds of opportunities becoming more frequent, they'd become
opportunities for Japanese riders too. I want it to be a place that
moves 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, lemme
think about it a little more carefully. I do want the hot spring but
yeah, 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 with
the just the five of us.
Tap: I've never had too much experience with ramps or
concrete. It's a little tough, but I especially want the little concrete
playground out front to be a place you can skate regardless of age or
skill. That's basically how I feel about the whole park. I want to make a
park that makes everyone want to skate. But I also kind of want
something weird. Something that you can't get anywhere else, like "What
the hell is this? No one skates this kind of thing.." That'd be pretty
funny. Like what the fuck? But I guess I'm half and half. I also don't
want to lean too far to towards crazy. Like maybe some weird stuff but
then 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 really
legit business. Because the park is starting to make some money, so we
have to correspond and make a park with as high quality sections as
possible. 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 who
were coming since the beginning. I plan on having them raise my kids for
me (laughs). If we can be like the America of Ishinomaki that would
be pretty sweet. Like Burnside or something. And we would be able to
say that we made that. Even when we're all old men, our kids can come
skate the park that we built.
Pepi: Just a fun park. I want to make a park that both
beginners and experts can skate. We'll make some money from the
admission fees, and we can use that to keep maintaining the park. A
thousand 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 all
began together, so for the third year, I want to continue making as sick
a 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 to
rush it. Either way, if I'm gonna quit (my job), I want to go all the
way with it. That's the aim. It kind of sucks, but for now we can only
do stuff within the ability of the five of us. We hear people's thoughts
and reactions and try to make something good. Then while we're making
it, we hear something else, so it becomes this interesting circle that I
hope will continue to spread. But since we're only doing it with the
five of us, we have no time to chill so that kind of sucks. I think if
you come chill with us and try to help out, you'll see we're all about
having 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 gotta
do everything we can until then. So we'll do our best to get done what
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 ass
it or make any compromises. If we're gonna do it, we're gonna do it one
hundred percent. But we have to have the money. That's the only place we
really have to make compromises. If we have the money, we could make
progress way faster, and make the sections perfect.
Yuuma: For now, we at least have to have the essentials
for the park ready to go. Buy the materials and get all the designs
down. 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 to
make a park that both beginners and experienced skaters can shred. A
park with everything, a real "one park." At a lot of parks, if there's
some 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 real
rush. Money isn't our motive. We just want this park and this idea to
continue. 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 turn
this place into a way to eat every day, then I'll be happy. It's just
that we've got to do it, and we don't have much time so we're probably
in a situation where we might not make it. But we're gonna do everything
we can. There's not much time until April, but the urge to finish the
park and get skating is pretty strong. I wanna shred. After all, I'm a
skater until the end. I'm not someone who builds skateparks. But I'll
build one (laughs). I want to finish it up and get shredding. And I want
to 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 the
park safely. Finish all the stuff we planned completely and get
everything 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, or
maybe you could say strange connections. But that's the kind of place
it's turning in to. And that's exactly the kind of place we're going
for. From here on out too, the more people we meet and the more
reactions and thoughts we hear, it just becomes this series of chain
reactions, that I hope will make it an ever better and sicker place. I'm
so 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 this
kind 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 thank
you isn't enough. I want to keep expressing my thanks until Onepark is
no longer here.
USK: Coming out of last year, this year was a real
interesting year for the park timingwise. From here on out, I think the
real color, the attraction, of the park is gonna start showing. It's
gonna spread. Since we'll also start saving up the money from
admissions, so yeah. I thought this during the earthquake too, but I
just 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 park
isn'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 and
opinions of skaters and continue to change. And the customers, the
people who come to skate the park, their opinions are much more
important than our own within the crew. But if we can all enjoy it
together, 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 for
us. I just want everyone by all means to support us. But what am I
saying? 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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