Rakuten is gearing up to host a skateboarding competition the likes of which Japan has never seen: Uprising Tokyo, Supported by Rakuten.
On May 26-28, 2023, Tokyo’s Ariake Arena will welcome some of the biggest names in street skating to battle it out for the inaugural Uprising title, on a world-class course designed by industry leader California Skateparks.
The roster includes gold medalists and local favorites Yuto Horigome and Momiji Nishiya, along with legendary global stars Shane O’Niell, Ishod Wair, Jamie Foy and many more. This event is much more than a competition – it’s a three-day celebration of skate music, fashion and culture, featuring special shows from local performers.
To explore the story behind Rakuten’s push into the world of skateboarding, we sat down with two of Uprising’s principal organizers: Project leader Takafumi Oba and marketing strategist Shugo Fujioka of Rakuten’s IP Contents Business.
“Despite all the interest in skateboarding and skate culture following Japan’s success at the Olympics, it still hasn’t gained much traction here.”
Fujioka explains that the environment for skateboarding in Japan is not as abundant compared to the United States, and that promising talent often have to hone their craft through both training overseas and making use of limited local facilities.
The road to Uprising began in April 2022, when Rakuten announced the beginning of an exciting new sports partnership with recent men’s street champion and local star Yuto Horigome.
“Since the beginning, Yuto has wanted to work with us to make skateboarding more popular in Japan. Not just the competitive aspect, but the lifestyle, the fashion, the music – skateboarding culture as a whole,” Fujioka reveals. “In the future, he wants to create an environment to foster more talent like him – although he’s still building his already impressive career.”
An event like Uprising had been in the cards since the beginning of the partnership, and Oba is excited about what the event could achieve.
“We’re hoping that it can change how skateboarding is seen in Japan and bring about a better environment for skaters,” he says. “We want give more people a chance to appreciate the sport. We want to grow the fan base, spark the creation of new training facilities and make skateboarding more accepted.”
Fashion, culture and a Japanese spin
While the event will be competitive in nature, Oba and Fujioka are also angling for a strong cultural focus.
“Young people in Japan are gradually becoming more accepting of skateboarding culture,” Oba explains. “Many people are taking an interest in the fashion, art and music, even if they don’t skate themselves.”
But the team isn’t looking to merely copy existing culture. To win over new fans, Fujioka believes the event needs its own unique identity.
“There’s not much point to us simply importing Californian skateboarding culture and displaying it in Japan,” he reasons. “That’s one reason we’ve brought in Japanese artist and calligrapher Kenshin as our creative director. He’s taking on the challenging task of working Japan into a very American-flavored event.”
It isn’t the first time Fujioka has been tasked with adapting an international sporting experience for local audiences. In 2019 and 2022, he helped organize the NBA Japan Games, delighting Japanese fans with their first local NBA games in decades. Fujioka’s team worked to strike a balance between showcasing the unique culture of the NBA and giving the events their own Japanese identity.
While the primary focus of Uprising will be the street and trick competitions, Oba and Fujioka have plenty more entertainment items in the works.
“Many of these acts will be from upcoming next-gen dancers. We’ll also have performances from idol groups, and a range of different shows,” Oba reveals. “Japan’s skateboarding culture is really just finding its feet, so we don’t yet know what exactly will be a hit with the fans.”
The next generation of Rakuten customers
Rakuten’s push into the skateboarding scene is a departure from its efforts across sports like soccer, baseball, tennis and golf, which have a much longer history in Japan. But Oba and Fujioka are confident that the Uprising nature of the sport is precisely what makes it so exciting for an innovative tech company like Rakuten, with a penchant for bringing disruption to established industries.
“With baseball and soccer, we’re primarily trying to reach people in their 30s and 40s,” Oba explains. “But if we want to reach the next generation, is that really all we can do?”
Oba has spent much of his career organizing sporting events, but he says that Uprising Tokyo will be challenging in entirely new ways.
“This event will be the first skateboarding competition ‘made in Japan’ of this scale. On top of the challenge of holding such a big event, we’re also taking on the goal of communicating the value of skateboarding to society, and contributing to skateboarding culture,” he says. “But if we don’t take on challenges like these, we’ll never reach the next generation of customers.”
Fujioka believes that Rakuten is uniquely positioned to become a hub of skateboarding culture.
“Rakuten has over 70 services and multiple different touch points,” he remarks. “We could have just held a simple competition and left it at that. But we have so many tools at our disposal – skate fashion on Rakuten Ichiba, Rakuten Viber as the official communications platform for the event… We are fully leveraging the Rakuten Ecosystem in ways that mesh really well with the skateboarding culture.”
A sport on the rise in Japan
Uprising Tokyo will be an event of many firsts. Oba is excited about the impact it could have on Japan’s skateboarding scene.
“I hope to see Japan’s own skateboarding culture take hold – something altogether unique from America and Europe,” he says. “A unique Japanese subculture – perhaps even a fusion with anime and other Japanese entertainment.”
Fujioka hopes that the event will inspire the next generation of skaters.
“Uprising is the keyword here,” he stresses. “We’re doing something new – something more than just a competition. More than anything, I hope that someone in the audience is inspired to become a pro skater themselves.”
As skateboarding takes hold in Japan, Fujioka is optimistic that Rakuten has an enduring role to play.
“I hope we can continue holding this event into the future. I hope we can improve it, and make it into an event that future skateboarders aspire to compete in.”
For more details and updates on Uprising Tokyo Supported by Rakuten, click here.