Secret Revealed How Japan Became a “Snowboarding Powerhouse” — Prepare to be Shocked! | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Secret Revealed How Japan Became a “Snowboarding Powerhouse” — Prepare to be Shocked!

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Small Size “is the Secret of Strength!

Japanese snowboarders showed remarkable performance at the Beijing Olympics held in February this year. In the men’s halfpipe, Ayumu Hirano won the gold medal with the most difficult feat. In women’s Halfpipe, Sena Tomita and Kika Murase won bronze medals in Halfpipe and Big Air, respectively.

Snowboarding has been an official sport since the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. When did Japanese athletes become so strong? What is the reason for their breakthrough? We interviewed Fusaki Iida, an instructor who has been snowboarding for 37 years and lives in Whistler, Canada, who shares the fun and know-how of snowboarding on his information website.

Ayumu Hirano, who has been inundated with offers for interviews since winning the gold medal, will be featured in a campaign visual for Oakley, a sports and lifestyle brand from California, starting in March.

Around 1995, the snowboarding boom began, and from 2000 onward, Japanese athletes began to make great strides.

According to the official website of the Japan Snowboard Association (JSBA), the first All-Japan Snowboard Championships were held in Japan in 1982, when the JSBA was established. At that time, however, Japan was in the era of “skiing” when it came to winter sports. You could hardly find snowboarders at any ski resort in Japan.

I started snowboarding in 1987, and at that time there was no one around me who knew what snowboarding was. I think the snowboarding boom came around 1993-95, right after the bursting of the bubble economy.

Later, snowboarding halfpipe and parallel giant slalom were adopted as official events at the Nagano Olympics, and an athlete named Yuri Yoshikawa competed in the women’s halfpipe. She had won the World Cup just before, and there were high expectations for her, but she failed to qualify. In the 90’s, it was hard to imagine a Japanese snowboarder making it in snowboarding at all.

It was not until the 2000s that Japanese athletes began to emerge.

Koji Nakai, who was commentating on snowboarding at the Beijing Games, is a former member of Japan’s national team and placed fifth at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. His scores were not as high as expected, and Mikihiro Abe, the coach of the halfpipe team, got into the news when he tearfully complained about the unfairness of the judges, saying, ‘Nakai will probably get a silver or bronze medal.

In Vancouver 2010, Kazuhiro Kunitomo had high expectations but was beaten by his clothes and words and actions, and the result of the competition ended in 8th place. However, Kunimomo would have definitely stood on the podium if only he had not fallen down.

It was around that time that Japanese athletes began to emerge, and Ayumu Hirano was already very successful in junior competitions around the world.

Hirano won the gold medal with his “Triple Cork 1440,” the first super move in Olympic history. Iida said, “It is the most difficult feat that no one has ever accomplished.

Then, at the Sochi Olympics in 2002, Japan won its first medal. Ayumu Hirano won the silver medal and Taku Hiraoka the bronze medal. In the slopestyle event, which was newly added to the snowboarding events at the Games, Yuki Kakuno finished in 8th place.

Hirano succeeded in the first consecutive quadruple in the history of the Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2006, and despite a fierce battle with absolute champion Shaun White, he finished with a silver medal. At that time, Raimu Katayama placed 7th.

The current generation of athletes in their teens and early twenties have been competing in the Junior Worlds since they were little, and they have seen their seniors achieve results. I feel that from this generation, they are starting to feel that ‘we can usually make it to the top of the world’. Probably, all the kids who competed in the halfpipe at the Beijing Games were aiming for the gold medal as a matter of course.

Japanese “craftsmanship” is suited to snowboarding!

But why were Japanese athletes able to make such great strides?

One of the reasons is the Japanese physique. In the freestyle snowboarding disciplines such as halfpipe, big air, and slope style, it is advantageous to have a small and slender body shape. This is because the technique of freestyle requires agility, and smaller people are more agile than taller people. If you are short and agile, you can create a compact posture and balance more easily. This is an advantage in freestyle events.

Ayumu Hirano is 165cm tall, the same height as me. Scotty James, who won the silver medal at the Beijing Olympics and is 185 cm tall, is an exception to the rule, and if you look at professional snowboarders around the world, there are relatively many small people.

Hirano is not the only one, and indeed, there are no big athletes in Japan’s snowboarding team. But that is not the only reason for the breakthrough.

Japanese people are good at working hard alone,” he said. Soccer and baseball are team sports, which require communication, but halfpipe and slopestyle are the type of events where you practice hard. It’s like secretly enjoying yourself as you improve. It may be similar to a craftsman’s spirit. I think that kind of national character is suited to snowboarding.

Speaking of that, Kaisyu Hirano, who finished 9th in the men’s halfpipe at the Beijing Olympics, commented on his older brother Ayumu’s gold medal victory, “I have watched my brother’s efforts since I was a child. I was so moved that I almost cried, because he was the one who worked so hard when everyone else wasn’t looking.

Ayumu’s advanced technique is the result of his practice. I think it’s an effort we can’t imagine.”

Ayumu Hirano (middle) alongside silver medalist Scott James (left) and bronze medalist Jan Sherrell (right) (Photo: AFLO)

Japan is blessed with a snow culture and off-season facilities …… snowboarding environment

Furthermore, Mr. Iida points to the enhancement of the snowboarding environment as the reason for Japan’s breakthrough.

Japan is a country with a snow culture, with Hokkaido, Tohoku, and Hokuriku all having a lot of snow,” he said. It is a smaller country than British Columbia, Canada, where I live, but during the bubble period, there were said to be as many as 600 ski resorts throughout the country. The number may be around 400 now, but even so, everyone can easily go skiing.

The parents of today’s active athletes are of the generation that enjoyed snowboarding in the 90’s during the snowboarding boom. Many of them were taken to ski resorts by their parents when they were children and started snowboarding under their parents’ influence.

Moreover, Japan is blessed with “off-season facilities” where snowboarding and skiing can be practiced even in summer. Typical facilities include Kings and Quest.

Kings and Quest are jumping facilities. You can ski down steep slopes, jump, and land. The landing area is an air mat, so it is safe to try new tricks.

Although there are some facilities with rails, which are essential for slopestyle courses, Japan has more facilities with jumps where you can practice big airs. I think that has something to do with why Japanese athletes are stronger in big air than in slopestyle .”

This is all the more reason behind the breakthrough of Japanese snowboarders. Finally, there is the factor that Mr. Iida mentioned as “possibly ……. That is–.

When I look at the people who come to me, 70 to 80% of Westerners can’t sit in poop. When snowboarders ride sideways, they stand on their heels when they put their center of gravity behind them, but when they try to stand up from a seated position with bindings on, those who cannot sit on their heels cannot stand up.

For example, at the moment of landing, they may be in a squatting position, like ‘I endured it well. A foreign athlete who is not good at poop-sitting will probably fall on his buttocks as it is.

Well, I think this is one of the reasons why the Japanese are so good at it (laughs).

Fusaki Iida, snowboard instructor, was born in Tokyo in 1968. Lived in Whistler, Canada for about 25 years. During the season, he coaches snowboarding to people all over the world as an instructor in Whistler. He writes a column on the information site “” in addition to providing snowboarding how-to information. He is the author of “Introduction to Snowboarding” and “20 Ways to Think about Snowboarding!

Click here for, the information site run by Mr. Iida.

  • Interview and text Sayuri Saito

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