Yoichiro Kitadate Interview
WHILE OTHERS CAN CLAIM TO HAVE BEEN THERE AS WELL, YOICHIRO KITADATE WAS INSTRUMENTAL IN BRINGING THE DUNK TO THE ATTENTION OF THE JAPANESE MARKET. AS A TALENTED WRITER, AVID BASKETBALL FAN AND AN AVOWED JORDAN-NUT, KITADATE HAS HAD A LONG CAREER IN PUBLISHING AND IS DEEPLY RESPECTED IN THE SPORTS FOOTWEAR COMMUNITY. HE WAS ALSO THE FIRST TO FEATURE THE DUNK IN A JAPANESE MAGAZINE...
Hello Yoichiro, thank you for your time to speak with us. Can you tell me about your background?
I started editing fashion magazines, both men and women, since I was still in college. But I moved to Chicago in 1995 because I wanted to write about Michael Jordan. For about 4 years, I watch most of Jordan’s games from court side and sent reports to Japanese magazines and newspapers. Then I moved back to Tokyo in 1999, where I worked for fashion magazines while launching a fashion brand as a part of my company and opened a store named T6M. In terms of sneakers, I was involved in the Air Jordan1 Millennium project in 2000, which we packed the shoe in a duralumin box, as well as a couple of Air Force 1 programs including the one combining black, reflector and snake patterns. I had also made T6M version of Air Trainer. In addition, I worked as the chief editor for magazines such as ‘Nike Design’ and ‘Kicks Style.’
I know you are a big basketball fan - was it the players, the shoes or the game that first got you interested?
I am as interested in the footwear as I am interested in basketball. I believe Nike is the one that is good at making shoes based on players’ feedback and combining aesthetics and trend. NBA is evolving year after year. Games are getting faster, and more exciting.
Do you only follow American players? How’s the domestic basketball scene in Japan?
I also watch Japanese leagues. However, there is no authentic professional league in Japan. It is true there are Takeuchi twin brothers, who are up to global standards. I think they can compete well in the global arena.
And what are you doing now?
I moved the T6M shop in November as a way to introduce new Daikan-Yama style of fashion from our own perspective. In addition, I am involved in the project to re-fresh ‘Boon’ magazine from this winter. The title logo of the magazine will use small letter ‘b’ instead of capital B, to represent the renewal. In the meantime, I have been working also as a commentator for NBA games on a national broadcasting channel.
Thankyou so much for all those BOON editions, I still have many of them... whatever happened to Boon?
It is time for Boon to change completely. As the time has evolved, Tokyo is looking for more mature, sophisticated and real things. Under such circumstances, I want ‘boon’ to be the one to introduce new Tokyo fashion trend again. Sneakers are important factors, and can be icons, but for ‘boon’, I would like to focus more on the stories behind sneakers and introduce them to subscribers.
I was living in London at the time when shoes like the Rift and Air Max 95 came out, and people were paying a fortune for them out of Japan. Do you remember the energy of this time? What was it like to be in Tokyo?
Excitement around Air Jordan was limited within our community. However in 1995, sneaker trend had expanded to affect even those outside the fashion industry, which fuelled the trend and hiked the price in a short time, while more versions were introduced to the market. I personally did not want to add any more excitement around the sneaker boom, and I did not think it was a very good thing that trend followers suddenly became excited around sneakers only because it was a trendy thing. I might have been young enough to think that way. But that was why I thought it was hundreds of times more exiting to leave Tokyo for Chicago to watch Jordan live.
Was Harajuku the centre of this boom? What about other Japanese cities?
I am not a Harajuku person, so I am not sure if Harajuku was the centre. However, I think there are a lot of people around Harajuku who like sneakers that are obviously trendy. It’s not just about sneakers but most new things from Japan start in Tokyo, including fashion and business.
Do you think Japan still influences global trends in fashion and footwear like it used to?
I felt that Tokyo was still following trend from London, Paris and New York in the 90’s, and was not completely on its own. But after 2000, Tokyo has become capable of expressing individuality. It is a good thing that cities in the world affect and influence each other and generate new things. While I am sure that Tokyo is playing a vital role in such process.
What fresh sneakers are Tokyo kids wearing these days? Many people have told me the market is shrinking quickly for traditional sports brands – do you agree?
In reality, global sports brands are not capable of coping with fast changes in the market immediately. It may be the biggest difference between fashion brands and sports brands. In fact, there are less people in Tokyo today who wear sneakers with strong athletic influence on street. Tokyo fashion is moving to more traditional style, while consumers may be recognizing less and less distance between sports and fashion. Tokyo consumers are sophisticated enough not to be impressed by new things introduced by sports brands as long as it is not matching the trend of the time.
Are there new sneakers being designed that still get you excited?
Of course I am always interested in new designs. However, it has often become the case that sneakers with excellent design and/or functionality are not always the ones that I would wear these days.
OK - now we talk about the Dunk. What does it mean to you?
It is the ultimate everyday shoe.
Is the shoe’s basketball heritage important to how you think of the shoe?
To be honest, I have never worn Dunk to play basketball, even right after the launch. From the beginning, I have never considered Dunk as a game shoe.
The Jordan 1 is very, very similar in design. Do they mean different things?
It is similar but completely different. Jordan1 is more similar to Air Ship than Dunk. Jordan 1 and Dunk are completely different from technical perspective.
You are credited by Nike as the first to feature the Dunk in a Japanese magazine in the late nineties. Do you remember how this happened? Which shoe was the first to be featured?
Boon was the first to focus on Dunk. Around that time, used clothes were trendy in Japan, and when we looked at best selling items at used clothes stores, we always found Levis 501 and vintage Dunks, which gave us an idea to feature Dunk.
Were you getting the Dunks from the USA or Nike Japan?
I think Nike Japan did not sell many original Dunks around the time of launch. That is why many Japanese did not know about Dunk. But when I went to the states, I saw a lot of Dunks in massive amount of colorways, which attracted me. In the 90’s Dunk was popular in used clothes market, which might be the reason that Nike Japan started to plan Ura(reverse colored) Dunks among others. Personally, I used to buy mine in the US.
Who were the major people and retailers who supported the shoe until it became popular?
Supreme was selling reverse colored Dunks. In around 2000, T6M, Head Porter and Atmos were main retailers, while Mita Sneakers became significant later.
How important was the ‘story’ or ‘nickname’ of the shoes to their success?
Such things may resonate well to collectors. But other elements such as material and color selection may be more important for those in the fashion industry. In general, Tokyo people are getting tired of stories, nicknames or ‘who is wearing what’ kind of information.
Can a shoe like the Dunk really live forever?
And lastly, can you name your top five Dunks?
White base with red patent leather / Footlocker SMU/ Dunk Lo
SB Heineken / Dunk Lo
SB denim version (among earlier ones) / Dunk Lo
White, Orange and gold star print / Supreme SMU/ Dunk Hi
Oiled leather, all around army green version made on Nike iD / Dunk Hi