Meeting Mr. Miyagi: Gou's Return to the Spotlight

Header Gou Miyagi Portrait ROB TARO DZ 2000Photo: Taro

Growing up in New Jersey, and being half Japanese, I’ve always been drawn to Japan’s skate scene. The way they see and document spots feels so mysterious, yet relatable; I knew I had to visit there some day. I finally got the chance when I was 20—traveling to my grandmother’s place in Osaka. I didn’t know anybody and had no clue where any spots were, so I just Googled “skatepark” and found one an hour away. When I arrived, I tried to converse with some locals with what little Japanese I knew. One of the skaters pointed across the park while we were talking and told me that a pro had just arrived. I looked up and immediately noticed the fabric griptape. I’d somehow run into the most intriguing skater in all of Japan—or perhaps even the world.

Photos by Shinsaku Arakawa

Rob captures Gou's unending imagination in this brain-exploding new part from Timescan 2

Gou Mitagi PQ The Most Intriguing Skater 2000
20230525 DSC 5132 hires Shinsaku Arakawa DZ CUT 2000
Over the next few years, I connected with an incredible community of Japanese skateboarders. They took me under their collective wing, guiding me deeper into their scene. I started a project called TIMESCAN to capture all of these amazing moments and memories. After releasing my first full-length video in 2019, COVID hit and the world changed dramatically. The skate scene in Japan also went through a drastic transformation during this time. With the onset of the Olympics, the creative and artistic ethos seemed to be displaced by the world of contests. Parents were even forcing their kids to train for events, and crackdowns on actual street skating became increasingly more strict. In order to shine a light on what I love about the culture, I began working on a new project: TIMESCAN2. Over the next four years, I traveled all over Japan, filming with over 50 homies. Some of the main skaters featured in the video are Shintaro Hongo, Masaki Hongo, Ryo Sejiri, Kazuaki Tamaki and Ryo Nobuchika

One day, I uploaded an Instagram story of Masaki messing around on a rusty rail doing Gou Miyagi’s signature move. To my surprise, Gou responded, saying something like, Wow, kids can do anything these days. I immediately DM’d him, letting him know that I was a huge fan and asked if I could film him for my video. To my surprise, he replied and we made plans to link up at the same park where we first met.

20230608 DSC 5919 hires Shinsaku Arakawa DZ 2000Giving his board a classy little ride with no harm to the handrail

Gou had many questions for me—most of them were along the lines of, Why do you want to film me? He sounded so insecure, and I didn’t know how to answer most of his queries. But what I did know was that the reason I was in Japan had a lot to do with the impact he’s had on the world of skateboarding. After a year of commuting to his local park to convince him that not only I, but every other skater on the planet, was waiting to see another video part from him, he finally agreed to try filming with me.

Gou Miyagi Run Up 50 50 750No run up, no rideaway, no problem, Gou always finds a way to have a good time. Tightrope 50-50 to fakie

In addition to not having skated in front of a camera in years, Gou also didn’t know my filming process—nor I his. He was also aware that I was filming with younger skaters like the Hongo brothers who are able to land seemingly impossible shit in a couple of tries. I believe that knowledge put a lot of pressure on him because he takes a very long time to perfect his tricks. He was also afraid that his moves were too weak and he would upset his fans. I learned that Gou really cares about video parts as a whole. He is very aware that once a video part is out, it’s out forever, and even if it took him days to land a trick, he might call me a few weeks later asking if we could re-film it. I understood, though. Nobody is doing what he’s doing, and it’s okay to take the time to make something feel perfect. But I was honestly really worried for him at the beginning of this project; our first months of filming together were very tough. We’d work on his part for hours, then he’d clock in for a 12-hour night shift—and Gou is not a young man. He’s also been struggling with a serious knee injury from a few years ago.

Gou Mitagi PQ The Part Weve Been Waiting for 2000

There were many times when he almost gave up on filming this new part, but I did everything I could to motivate him. I let him know that he’s made a tremendous contribution to skateboarding, and that the community loves him and cares about him. And after a few years of hard work, he had stacked some really heavy clips—the Gou Miyagi video part that we’ve all been waiting for was taking shape. He’d come a long way from his initial negativity; he was now calling me and letting me know that he was definitely going to finish his first part in over nine years.

As I’m writing this, I’m currently on an airplane on my way to Europe for a screening. I want to show everyone around the world that this is the Japanese skateboarding that I’ve always looked up to; this is what skateboarding looks like through my eyes. I want to share with everyone that a video part, or anything with a lot of thought and care put into it, has the potential to really, really change somebody’s life. —Rob Taro

20230623 DSC 6797 hires 2 Shinsaku Arakawa DZ 2000 2There is no greater coffin than forced conformity

Gou Miyagi Speaks Subhead 20020230626 DSC 7053 hires Shinsaku Arakawa DZ 200050-50 to beanplant to fakie 50-50. Miyagi magic! 

Fukakita Ryokuchi lies right in the middle of my 30-minute bicycle commute route from my house to where I work. It is a place that adds color to the daily life, spacious with lots of greenery. I used to take my daughter to play there when she was small. It also has a skatepark with a lovely blue surface. It is the main stage for this part.

Now that I have a partner and my family has grown, the amount of time and money I can spend only for myself has become pretty limited, making it difficult to go on tours to faraway places or to go around looking for spots with other skaters like I did when I was young. I am really grateful for the existence of this park where I could stop by in those pockets of time in between work, raising a child and other household chores—taking a moment to just chill in the greenery or roll around a bit at the skatepark.

20230706 DSC 8025 hires Shinsaku Arakawa DZ 2000Nothing feeble about taking the road less traveled. Gou rides free

This park also had some round rails that caught my interest, but they were on top of dirt or in the water, not on surfaces wheels could roll on. Fortunately, I had starting on top of round rails on lock, so all of these ill-placed round rails became prime spots. But, this was also a precious place for park management and other visitors. From the viewpoint of those people, my actions are definitely not something that could be understood, and the worst-case possibility of losing my spot lingered. I guess you could say desperate times call for desperate measures, so I changed my approach and thought of what to consider when being able to use public places and things to skate.

  • Constantly check the movement of those around, and to not go for it if I saw anyone within 20-to-30 meters to prevent any collisions.
  • Attach homemade PVC copers to my truck hangers so that damage to the round rail will be minimal due to the soft coper grinding away.
  • Put a thin layer of wax on the round rail and top it off by spraying water on it with a mist bottle to minimize friction, keeping damage to a minimum while also being able to enjoy a smooth no-friction glide.
  • Clean off the wax and dirt with a melamine sponge or cloth after use.
  • Pick up any garbage around the area, separate it and give it to the cleanup volunteers within the park—or take it home.

Such actions are what I started to take and keep in mind. My personal consideration towards round rails—public property—are embedded in some of my tricks—when I am sliding down handrails on my butt, I do this focusing on wipe cleaning the handrail with the fabric of my pants, and I feel this trick straightforwardly accomplishes leaving the spot cleaner than before I arrived.

20200917 DSC 9585 hires Shinsaku Arakawa DZ 2000 COMP 1Does the fish know he’s in water? Grind around the pond

The last trick, the mask slide, also has an effect of cleaning the round rail with the mask under my feet, and the thought behind this was to find fun within restrictions. For the past two-to-three years, we have been in a situation where all sorts of restrictions have been imposed on us and we’ve been completely robbed of having fun. It was deemed non-essential and non-urgent to go about our daily lives. But was it really so? I feel that having fun has to create the energy for tomorrow. These days masks are representative of restrictions, and to be able to find fun with them makes me proud to be a skater.  —Gou Miyagi translated by Ken Williams

Gou Miaygi 50 50 Raft Ride 750If you look out to sea and there's an unexplainable skateboard pointed to the stars and the infinite possibilities beyond, there's a good chance it's Gou Miyagi with his signature run-on 50-50 to raft ride
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