By Oliver Georgiou, Photos: Mark Drew, Translation: Ryoko Ito
Japan is the best place in the world for sneaker hunting. In fact, there are so many Japan-exclusive models and retail options available, it’s often overwhelming. But if you have a hankering for the weird and the wonderful, not to mention the frightfully valuable and rare, then all you need to know is how to find the store known as Skit. Turning his own obsession into incredible bricks-and-mortar sneaker emporiums, Kamamoto-San is one of us – a true Sneaker Freaker – and he knows more about the Japanese scene than just about anyone. We sat down for a katsu-curry with Kamamoto in Kichijōji, where our story begins.
Tell us about your shop Skit? How did you start?
We started back in 2001, at first we didn’t even have 10 pairs in the shop. Nobody knew about us, and it took two weeks to sell our very first pair! And with the money we earned from that one pair we sold, we bought our next two pairs to sell. We just kept repeating that routine until the business was stable. Back then there was a massive market in Japan. Many people started their business selling sneakers just to make money. Our business expanded but what hasn’t changed is our enthusiasm for the sneakers. I guess that made a difference in the selection of our repertoire. Not just the new and popular, but vintage as well. It didn’t have to be deadstock neither.
There was a big boom for Jordans and Air Max in the 90s. Tell us about the sneaker scene back then in Japan?
Yes, the biggest thing was the Air Max 95. But there was a lag in between the time of release and when it got really popular. It didn’t blow up immediately with internet and media exposure like nowadays. It was when some Japanese celebrities started wearing them that it became really, really popular. The price went up to ¥300,000 (usd$3,100) for a new pair.
I have never really understood why this happened. The shoe was never that big anywhere else.
I think because the trend prior to the 95 was all about vintage. Dunk high cuts, Air Jordans etc. The models back then were really basic. So when we saw those high-tech shoes, it was really appealing. Also there were only a few shops where you could buy them. And with no internet back then, no info at all, people didn’t know where they were sold. That created an exclusive appeal which motivated the people to buy it
What were you doing before the shop opened?
When we opened the shop in 2001, I was still 22 and just out of college. I don’t mean to knock other people’s hustle, but my true opinion is that I wasn’t able to find any sneaker shops that were really exciting. That really motivated me to start my own. It was the same shoes everywhere, with same pricing, nothing interesting. For instance I wanted an Air Jordan 6 and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I just had to create the kind of shop I would love to go to myself. In Japan we have Air Max and Air Jordan fans, and the vintage audience as well. But buyers would also make trips to the US or Europe. I realised the Japanese have the most amazing stuff from around the world, so why not just buy direct from the JP collectors? We had awkward advertisements in magazines back then that said ‘We BUY sneakers’ instead of ‘We SELL sneakers’.
Why is Skit located in the Kichijōji district?
You know Shibuya and Harajuku have always had their own sneaker scene going on, and I was never into that. I love this district. With Inokashira Park and everything. It’s just nice here.
What was the most expensive pair of sneakers that you have ever sold at Skit?
I didn’t put it out on the shelf, but it was the Air Jordan 9 ‘Spike’ edition. It was one out of the 45 pairs sold. Worn and signed by Michael Jordan. It was ¥800,000 (usd$8,400). Once, back in the Air Max 95 era, I used to work part time in high school at a sneaker shop. We had no internet back then, so people would buy expensive shoes over the phone. With only a short verbal description, I once sold a pair of Air Max 95s for ¥150,000. It wasn’t even brand new!
How did you sell that pair without displaying it?
Well, I have a list of people whom I communicate closely with. They make frequent visits and exchange information. I would remember in previous conversations what they would be looking for. We always have people like that.
How do you price the shoes?
It’s difficult. But I have the price already of what I paid, so I just start from there.
Which is more difficult to price – buying or selling?
Definitely the sell price. Because I try to keep the price in a sensible range. We’re also not influenced by the scene or the price overseas. We have our own standards with prices and approaches in how we sell. So when customers from overseas come in I see they are all happy saying, ‘The prices are sensible! No rip offs!’
Why does the price differ so greatly between deadstock and a pair that has been worn only a few times, that is still almost new?
I think it’s just in our culture. Most people don’t want to wear something people have worn, even if it’s just several times. But it’s funny because people take pairs that I wore from me, so I guess people just don’t like shoes that were worn by someone unfamiliar.
Since 2001, lots of Tokyo sneaker shops have closed. How did you survive?
I believe it’s the staff. They love sneakers, just like me. Not because they want to work for cash or work at Skit. They are collectors as well. One guy was like, ‘I have 1000 pairs at home’. And I’m like, ‘You’re crazy!’ 1000 pairs in an average Tokyo residence or even in the suburbs is crazy. Another factor is localisation. Skit has become pretty established, but still it’s not THAT popular. Especially in Osaka, nobody knew us. When we open stores in a new place, we realise the preferences are different from Tokyo. We let it flow without going against the local scene. Together we grow, creating the movement nationwide. But I always go back to saying the very reason for our success, is simply the love that me and my staff have for the shoes. We live it. We’re able to handle any kind of shoes when they come in.
Every shop owner has nutty customer stories. Do you have any that are wild or crazy?
One time I had a customer claiming, ‘I bought this a year ago, but it broke while I was playing basketball. Can I get a refund?’ He complained that the one he had before didn’t break like that. There are claims of dented boxes or no tissue paper inside the box! The worst are the ones who come, try them on, go home, then come back a week later saying they want a refund because they changed their mind.
And what do you do?
We don’t refund. They get upset, and I say sorry. We also have some people asking if it’s a rare pair or not, for each and every shoe they pick up. Just wear whatever looks good on you!
What differences have you noticed between Japan and what you see in other countries?
Nike Terminators. I have never seen anyone wearing them overseas. Many foreign customers come to my shop, but I never see them buy any either. In Japan we like Terminators. I think it’s because ABC Mart (Japanese sneaker chain) has over 500 shops nationwide stocking them, that may be the very reason. For Nike, I think it’s good because it sold a lot. But for us collectors, Terminator was the model that we always admired and thought cool. That credibility was destroyed because the scene made it so popular. But I think overseas, they don’t have that same idea of ‘Foot Locker-ruined’ models.
Nike Court Force. This one was also sold in bulk by the massive chain stores, so the credibility went down. Nike is happy, but not us. On the other hand, there is Air Max. Japanese don’t like them as much as they do overseas. The 95 was just too big I guess. I wear it because I like it. But when it’s released in Japan, the price goes down and when it goes to the outlet, it won’t sell anymore.
I love Air Max 93s. Anyone collect them?
They are all dead. Soles crumbling and all that. But it’s been 20 years, so I’m hoping they bring it back. Come back Air Max 93s!
How do you keep vintage pairs from decaying?
It costs me ¥150,000 (usd$1500) for my electricity bills every month for one shop! I need to keep the air conditioner on 24/7 to keep these shoes in good condition. Japan is not a good place weatherwise to keep any bulk sneakers or records!
Damn, that's crazy expensive! Is there a pair that you haven’t been able to find?
Size? in the UK made an Air Stab. The Foot Patrol Stab is cool too, but the European scene is hard to access, by that I mean the info and the shoe itself. I always find out after it’s sold and it’s always too late. And they only make limited quantities. I like how Size? in the UK make their approach. Core attitude, it’s really for the fans. I like that approach better than the US style.
How many pairs do you have personally?
At the moment about 400 or 500 at home. But I often send some to shops lacking in stock, to balance out the sales. I just sent a load of 200 pairs over to Sendai. So my own personal collection varies every month. I moved last year, and that was the first time I ever counted my personal collection. Then I had 1400 pairs.
Do you keep all the boxes?
Only about half of them. Can’t keep them all. I also wear them all. They are made to be worn.
Let’s say you were going for an interview to be working at Skit. Which pair would you wear?
Hmmm, I have no idea. But I don’t think any new models.
When someone comes in for a job interview though do you look at their shoes?
Of course, but that won’t be a major factor in deciding to hire them or not. I’m always looking, even when I’m just walking around the neighborhood. I notice people who really like what they’re wearing.
If you could only have one pair for the rest of your life what would it be?
Air Jordan 1. I guess I will never be over the Barcelona Dream Team. I think people my age, in their mid-thirties, we were too young to afford that AJ 1, the most idolised and adored. As we get older, the style of how we dress changes, the shoes might change, but not the AJ 1.
Blue and black.
What does the future of Skit look like?
In this internet world today, I want my customers to come to the store. Get to see the actual pair, get to know the shoes. So I want to open more shops. Also, Mita and atmos are popular overseas with their colabs. It would be nice to be successful on that level. I think I have been in the industry long enough. But in Japan, conditions and standards for an account are very difficult to fulfill. We’re not ‘official’ like that.
If you get an account, you can’t consign sneakers.
That’s exactly what I meant by successful ‘on that level’. I don’t think I want an account. It will take away my opportunity to meet new shoes and people. I’ve been dealing with sneakers for almost 20 years now and I still see new pairs I have never seen before. And I still get blown away. For instance, there is a model from adidas called the Badlander. Or their skating shoe line the Adimatic. They are not popular at all, but they are expensive at Skit. Nike Air Maestro also. We share info that people from Nike JP don’t even know about. The Air Max ‘Urawa Reds’ model, they should release that again!
If Skit was to do a colab, who would you like to work with?
If we work with Nike, it would be an obvious success. And that would not be Skit, but Nike’s credit. So I’d like to see how far I get with the Skit brand. Maybe some brands that are not popular in Japan, like Saucony or Pro-Keds. If we do a colab with them and succeed, then I think the design is valued and the judgement is reliable. I take much pride in what we do. I think we are the best in what we do.
One thing I’d like for you to add to this article, is that we don’t send sneakers overseas. It’s our policy. To maintain the stock we carry, if we sold through the internet, it just won’t be possible. We might as well do business as an internet shop purely for the sales benefit. But the very reason we pay the rent for our shops is that we’re offering the idea of actual contact with the shoes and the people. I really work very hard to maintain that quality of excitement in the store.
We really love your shop.
You know that really makes me happy. (smiles)