Andrew Taylor, JD Swanguen and Long Nguyen go on a trip of a lifetime to Japan and capture it all on video and in pictures for the rest of us to enjoy in this widescreen article. Enjoy!Andrew Taylor, JD Swanguen and Long Nguyen go on a trip of a lifetime to Japan and capture it all on video and in pictures for the rest of us to enjoy in this widescreen article. Enjoy!
Words, Photos, and Video by Long Nguyen
JAPAN, a country that was devastated by an Earthquake, a Tsunami, and Fukushima this past year. As I boarded my 5am flight to San Francisco to meet up with Andrew Taylor (aka AT) and JD Swanguen, I couldn’t have been more excited to head to Japan. This would be my second trip to Japan, and it is has to be one of my favorite countries to visit. I visited the country last year, before the disaster hit the country, and I didn’t really know what to expect, or of the riding that Japan had to offer. The 11-hour flight wasn’t too bad, compared to the 14-hour flight to Hong Kong AT and I did earlier in the year.
We finally landed at Kansi Airport, Osaka, and made our way to baggage claim. We grabbed our things, and noticed that JD was missing his bikes. We soon found out that his bikes made their way to South Korea instead. JD wouldn’t be able to get his bikes till later that evening, so we headed out to meet up with Katsu Sera of Fun Fancy Distributing. Katsu is the reason why we all made the long journey to ride in his festival called Jagaround. It was going to be a two-day festival, filled with live music, dirt jumping, dual slalom, and downhill. But before we would head into the mountains, we would hang around Osaka for a few days to check out the local riding scene. We loaded up the van and made our way into the heart of Osaka to our hotel. Since we got in late, we thought we would just do the normal tourist thing, and explored around, before heading to bed. Before we knew it, we were at a TV station and AT and JD was on a live sports television doing interviews. After the TV show we grabbed some dinner and headed for bed.
The next day we all woke up a little jet lagged, but we were more than pumped to check out the local riding spots. Since Katsu was busy, he had his friends Yuu Nakamura and Gucci (from Ringo Road Bike Shop) take us around. They grabbed us from the hotel, and we headed to their friend Matasawa’s shop to build our bikes. We started to assemble everything, and riders from the area started to show up. Everyone we met was more than hospitable, and presented gifts to the riders. Once we were done, we loaded up the vans, and headed into the mountains for some DH laps. The truck dropped us off, and we had a short hike to the trailhead. There were a lot of brushes and branches on the ground, because the island had been hit by a big typhoon the week prior. We made our way down the hill, cranking out a quick shoot, as we were supposed to head to another location to go dirt jumping.
When we were done, we headed back to Matasawa’s place to pick up the hard tails, and we were off back into the hills. On our way, we drove by a monkey sanctuary. Those monkeys didn’t move for anyone! As we drove through, they would just hang out on the side of the road, minding their own business. We made it to the dirt jumps, and also cranked out a quick session, as the light was starting to fade quickly. Japan was already blowing us away with what the island had to offer thus far into the trip. After it got dark, there was no better way than to enjoy some delicious sushi.
The next morning, we had a slow start to the day. The rainy skies prevented us from going riding, so we met up with our buddy Go Sekiguchi, who would take us around Osaka. First, we headed to Ringo Road to check out the bike shop, then we headed into the mountains to check out a famous Japanese temple. We all had a pretty relaxed day, and evening, before heading into the mountains.
The next day, we woke up early, and made our 4-hour drive to Fukui Izumi. When we finally got to the mountain we were blown away. When we showed up, the trail builders, Mr. Yuu and Hamaya had dirt jumps and a dual slalom track ready to go. They told us that it only took them a few short days to crank everything out. Hamaya was an artist in the tractor, and made everything as requested. Since we showed up a day early, we decided to head up the mountain to start shooting, and scope out the mountain before the festival was to kick off. What the mountain had to offer was less than boring. It was fast, had big snowboard like jumps, and everything flowed pretty well. As the sun started to fall, we headed back to our traditional style hotel.
It was the first day of Jagaround, so we made an early start to the mountain. When we rolled up to the parking lot, it was packed with tents and cars. Riders from all over Japan started coming in - late at night, and many more throughout the day. As soon as we pulled up to the mountain and got out of the van, AT and JD were greeted by everyone as if they were movie stars. Most have only seen AT and JD from movies and Internet and were more than stoked to meet the riders in person. Since the day was starting to get going, we ran into some of our buddies from Osaka, and decided to head up the hill to get some riding in.
After a few hours of cruising around, it was time to get the show on the road. AT, JD, and Woman’s World Cup rider Mio Suemasa, hiked to the top of the hill, and hit the 20-plus-foot snowboard style jump for the opening ceremony. As the riders were introduced, they all hit the jump with style, with AT flipping and JD throwing a massive whip.
The first competition of the event would be Slalom. It was quite unique, since it was open class. You could be 25-years-old in the gate with a 12-year-old kid next to you. On top of that, you had to play rock, paper, scissors for gate pick, since you only had one run to advance. The talent pool was more than impressive, and gave JD a run for his money. In the end, JD took home the win, and had to gear up for DH the next day.
After dual was over, AT put on a small demo for all the riders. With a small group of freeriders in attendance, it was impressive to see what talent Japan had to offer. AT, JD, Go, and many more, hit the jump over and over, until the sunset.
After the Jump Demo, we all headed over to the dirt jumps that we had built earlier in the week to get the jam started. By this time, it was dark, and they had the whole thing lit up with lights. There were kids of all ages jumping and having a good time. It was cool to see kids push their limits. At the end of the jam, AT got to pick out the top riders for awards, and hand out prizes. The top prize went to a 10-year-old boy who wasn’t scared to send it on his cruiser.
Once awards were done, the night was still not over. Katsu was taking us to a campsite where he was throwing a party for everyone. Since we were in the countryside, we had no idea what to expect. When we arrived, we were once again blown away. There were food vendors everywhere, a stage, and DJ’s to play till 5am. We knew it was going to be a long night, and enjoyed the evening with all our new friends.
Monday morning came quick, and it was the final day of the event. It was our last full day in Japan. While JD took part in the DH race, AT and I used the day to ride and shoot other spots on the mountain that we weren’t able to earlier in the week. Our last day was more than awesome, with JD taking the win in DH race, and AT and I nailing some awesome shots.
We said our goodbyes to our new Japanese friends, and headed to another town, as we had something special lined up for us. It was our last night, and our friend Hamaya (the man behind all the great trails on the mountain) invited us to his Japanese famous restaurant for an amazing last dinner. It was a bed-and-breakfast style place. We ate some of the best food I have ever eaten, had some drinks, and went upstairs to our beds, before leaving for the airport the next day.
The following morning we woke up early to head back to Osaka. Since we had some extra time, we spent our final hours shopping for souvenirs, and visiting Fun Fancy Distributing. It was my second time to Japan, and it was a completely different experience. One thing I took away from the trip was how nice and caring everyone is.
People always went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of, and they took hospitality to a whole new level. And when I say the people of Japan really went out of their way to take care of us, it showed when they didn’t just drop us off outside the airport. They made sure to walk us in, get checked in, and took us to a final sushi meal in the airport. This trip was an experience of a lifetime, and AT, JD, and I walked away with great memories, life-long friends, and an itch to come back again next year. Special Thanks to Katsu & Donkey from Fun Fancy, Marin, our Japanese friends, and the crew, for making this trip happen. See you next year.