Next up for a guest post is someone who probably needs little introduction. Tokyo Mike as he is known, is a peer of mine as far as age but he has many more years than me in the sneaker world. Mike does a good job of providing his background so I’ll skip the formalities. For all the old school whiny collectors complaining about the state of sneakers today, it is refreshing to see Mike appreciate what he got to be a part of at the peak. I’ll have more to say to those sneakerheads soon enough. Give him a follow on Instagram (@_tokyomike_) if you haven’t already. – SG
After 23 long years, I finally packed up my things and left Japan for good. I’d split my time between Japan and Hawaii since 1993 due to a weapons instructor job that bounced me back and forth between the two places. My kids were born in Japan but fell in love with Hawaii at a young age and as much as we loved Japan, we all wanted to get to Hawaii sooner than later.
After that long in one place, thinking about leaving is somewhat of an out of body experience. You daydream about it a lot. Everyone tries their best to picture what things will be like once you’ve moved, but for the most part nothing really makes much sense. Not until you’re somewhat settled in to your new place and have the time to sit back and think about the fact that yes, you’re “gone” now and no, you’re not going back.
About a week ago, I found myself thinking at length about the things I’d seen and done in Japan and or course, sneakers played right into things. My sneaker addiction started as a young kid in New York who way back in 1986, couldn’t decide if Michael Jordan’s shoe was cooler than Run DMC’s. As far as actually amassing a collection, that was all a Japan thing that started right around 1996 after I left the service.
In 1996 I was fresh out of the Marine Corps, working night club security and living in an apartment in a small neighborhood just outside of Shibuya in Tokyo. No wife, no kids, just me in a city of 13 million people. I worked at a bar that was open from 9pm to 9am, 7 nights a week. Absolute torture for me because I’ve never been able to sleep during the day. Especially in an apartment that had a rule stating you had to be out of your place when the cleaning service people showed up every f**king day at 1pm. It was horrible. But there was some cosmic sneaker stuff at work, because almost everyday during that cleaning lady break, I’d end up walking around in a lot of the OG sneaker stores in Tokyo and when finances allowed, buying a pair. Bape, in 1996, was legitimately rare and NOT easy to get. If you were to walk around Tokyo back then and pay attention to what people were wearing, spotting that little Ape logo was like searching for and finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. You’d see maybe two people who lucked out and got ahold of something from the brand. Especially rare to see their shoes back then, because they didn’t offer much at the beginning. I don’t remember how many pairs I ended up with. Maybe 10 total in their early years, but spread out over time. Don’t own a single pair of them at this point, they were worn into the ground (as all sneakers should be) and then tossed out the second I bought a new pair. Would I do deplorable things to have those shoes back? Yes. Yes I would.
Right around 2000 I finally started working a semi-normal job again. The job itself isn’t worth mentioning, apart from its giving me way more financial leeway as far as buying sneakers on a regular basis. At this point, the best stores in Tokyo were, hands down, Chapter, Atmos, and Mita Sneakers. Twice a month minimum, I’d end up spending hours at these shops, trying my best not to spend my entire paycheck. Their selections back then were incredible. Yes I did say “were.” There will be another article covering the current state of affairs in Japan, which will surprise a lot of people. Anyways, back then these stores stocked their shelves with things you simply wouldn’t see outside of the country. I hate to beat on the Michael Jordan drum because it’s honestly the most played out name/subject in sneaker collecting, but when you can walk into a store and find original Air Jordan 1’s in untouched condition and only pay $150 for them, it is what it is, it needs to be mentioned. I ended up with quite a few original pairs from 1985, hang tag, box, and original paper included. I also skipped a ton of pairs back then that I regret more than I can convey in a few short words. Oddball stuff’s always appealed to me and I can still see a pair of super cheap but completely wearable black and neon Avia Transports, sitting on a table for right around $50. I told myself to get them, walked away, and a week later (of course,) they were gone. I’ve kicked myself for over a decade for that sneaker blunder.
Thinking about it right this second, I can state this as fact: Between 2004 and 2010, Japan was untouchable as far as sneakers. At this point I was in contact with a lot of collectors all over the planet and we’d talk shop every single day. I was in a position that made a lot of people “sneaker jealous” in the best way possible. Hype hadn’t tainted any aspect of sneakers in Japan yet. Mita, Chapter, Atmos, where getting the Ueno AF1’s took about as much effort as getting a Happy Meal, the list of stores and the effortlessness in purchasing was mind blowing. I had the money to spend and the time to shop. The two major players at the time though, were PX Megastore, and K-Skit. Google searching “TokyoMike K-Skit” will pull up a fair amount of pictures of the madness I’m about to attempt to put into words. K-Skit at this time, was heaven on earth. Anyone who’s been to the store knows what it looks like today. It’s a huge, pristine store with 30 foot high walls and shoes as far as the eye can see. Disgusting in my opinion. In 2004 or so, it looked and smelled like a butcher shop the health department gave failing grades to. It was a dark cave of a store, hidden in a residential neighborhood in Kichijoji. You needed help from either Yoda or Jesus Christ himself to even find the place. But when you did find it, your life changed forever. You realized, it will NEVER get better than this. Every, single, sneaker, in history, in front of your disgusting, profusely sweating face, daring you not to wreak havoc on your savings account and take up even more closet space with sneaker boxes. The pairs I bought there in this time frame ended up being key collection pieces. Original Air Pythons. Almost every good early SB Dunk in existence, for retail. Just the most ridiculous sneaker buying experience a person can possibly have, and I was having it two or three times a week on average for years on end.
From 2010 until the point I left which was very recently, the shift in the entire sneaker “thing” was very apparent. Location has little to do with evolution in a lot of cases and Japan changed right along with the rest of the world. I still hit some major home runs in the later years over there. DJ Muro, a legitimately famous DJ from Japan and avid sneaker fiend, this guy decides to off his entire collection one day and piles everything into a store that sells incense, then scribbles the most ridiculous “must go now” prices onto the boxes. I just so happen to pass by the storefront and see what I assumed were fake Denim Forbes SB Dunks. In my size. I picked them up to laugh at them and get a quick picture to share on my Instagram feed. Fast forward about two minutes into things and Muro’s explaining to me that he’s tired of sneakers and just wants to get his collection out of his house in the quickest time possible. $107.00 later, I’m the owner of a damn hard to get pair of SB Dunks. As much as the changes in the game had kind of “ruined things” for me at this point, that particular pickup restored a lot of faith in me and proved that no matter how much things might feel like they’ve fallen off, there will always be those one in a million instances where you actually get that intense high from finding a pair of sneakers you can’t believe you’re now the owner of.
So, here I am now. Gone from Japan for good, with over two decades worth of a sneaker life condensed into a few minutes of typed out memories, and a stack or two of old shoes sitting in a closet. 540 pairs whittled down to just 30 or so. No more train trips to find rare gems in hidden back alley stores. The chances of the coming years being as satisfying, as far as sneakers are concerned, are probably slim to none. I can at least be honest and say, I know the best years are behind me as far as buying sneakers. I lucked out for a long time and now…..now I wait to see what the future holds with as much optimism as possible, as well as being thankful I got to spend as long as I did in what amounted to sneaker heaven.