Skateboarding boom drives a ramp-up of skate parks

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Skateboarders ride around Murasaki Park Kasama in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture.

The popularity of skateboarding is soaring across the nation, partly because it can be enjoyed outdoors where the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus is relatively low, and skate parks are opening one after another.

While the number of such parks built by local governments has increased from 100 to 243 the past four years through June, skating in city areas where it is not allowed has also become noticeable.

On a recent weekend at Murasaki Park Kasama, a skate park in Kasama, Ibaraki Prefecture, skaters were flipping in the air and grinding on railings.

If they landed a spectacular trick, other skaters would applaud by tapping the tails of their boards on the ground.

The park opened in April and attracts about 100 people on weekends. Even those who are not that young are noticeable among them.

“It’s fun teaching tricks to each other with strangers. It’s a great way to interact with young people,” said a 49-year-old company employee who visited the park from Saitama City. He began skateboarding about a month ago.

Aiming to revitalize the area by attracting many people, the Ibaraki prefectural government and Kasama city government jointly funded ¥740 million to build the 4,600-square-meter skate park, which is one of the largest in Japan.

The planning of the park, which was designed to look like bowls and stairs in a city center, was overseen by Japan’s national skateboard team director Takashi Nishikawa.

Skateboarding is gaining popularity due to its upcoming debut at the Tokyo Games, and local governments are taking the initiative to build skate parks, according to the Japan Skate Park Association.

As of May, public and private bodies had constructed a total of 418 skate parks.

However, skaters have been causing trouble and making noise on the streets. In addition, there have also been criminal cases.

In Yokohama since autumn last year, for example, a total of 15 skate boarders were charged with minor legal violations after entering commercial facilities.

In Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, a boy who damaged the Kintaikyo bridge, a national site of scenic beauty, while skating was referred to prosecutors in March for violating the Cultural Properties Protection Law.

In Saga, there was an accident in which a skateboarder bumped into a person who was waiting at a traffic light in front of JR Saga Station this spring. A “No Skateboarding” sign was set up at the square in front of the station following the incident.

Matsusaka City government in Mie Prefecture opened a skate park in 2019 after consulting with sport organizations because it had been receiving complaints about noisy skaters in parking lots and on the streets. The city government said that the number of complaints had declined thanks to the new facility.

In Yokohama, the Yokohama Skateboarding Association is collecting signatures on its website for a petition calling for the creation of skating facilities in parks in Yokohama and other areas, claiming that skaters “need areas where both skaters and others can feel safe” while they skate.

“Skateboarding has a history of being enjoyed on the streets as part of street culture, but facilities are necessary in light of [public] safety,” said Munehiko Harada, president of Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences.

The specialist in sports management added, “Maintaining the facilities and the number of skaters will require long-term promotional activities, such as holding events and competitions.”