Today we travel to Japan for our latest Place Presents by Hans Klein featuring Benji Saxby & Jordan Thackeray. Truth be told we didn’t know of Benji, but we have become fans on the same level we were fans of Jordan’s whole thing. To further introduce the person who made this all possible we put our hand in a hat and pulled out these questions for Hans Klein to answer. We hope you enjoy this content, and we hope it creates the appropriate excitement for the release of the full video soon! Enjoy.
Intro & Interview by Roland Hoogwater.
Film & Photography by Hans Klein.
Hey Hans, thank you for doing this so let’s start, tell me a bit about yourself.
Yeah absolutely. I moved to Tokyo from Portland, Oregon right before the pandemic to work as a high school teacher. As of a day before writing this, I’m back in the States for the foreseeable future, and after being in Japan for about 4 years it feels like stepping out of a dream. It’s definitely a crossroads in my life, but honestly, things are so much more sweet than bitter.
When did you start skating?
I usually tell people that I started skating when I was 9 years old because that’s when I got my first real board. When I was 5, my parents got me a shaped Nash board probably from some sporting goods store or something. I was hyped on it though because it looked like boards from books I’d checked out from the library.
After that, I’m pretty sure it was the classic thing. I went to a friend’s house and saw his two older brothers skating. They had flat bars and boxes outside their house, they had the baggy gear with big ass shoes, they were stoked as hell on Menikmati, and I was like, “Oh shit, this is so cool. I need to do what they’re doing.” I remember being fixated on the trucks. Like, I saw their boards had metal trucks and the plastic trucks on my board made it seem like a toy. I think I probably begged for a few months to get a real board until my dad finally caved. We went to another sporting goods store, this time with an actual skate section with real boards and everything, and picked up an Element mini with real, genuine metal Ventures.
When did you start filming for this project and with whom?
I started filming for this video with my friends Sean Wallick, Yu Tsuruta, Jay North, and Kazuo Russell around June 2022. I’d filmed a decent amount with Sean, and I was skating more with Tsuruta at that time because he and Sean were good friends. I knew Sean killed it because I’d been skating with him for a while, but the first thing I heard about Tsuruta before I met him was that he pulled up to a spot with no warm-up and tried to get a 5050 on this gnarly out rail. I guess he stuck on it, had to bail, broke his wrist, and nearly cracked open his skull on some stairs. He seemed crazy and it turns out he was in the best way. Along with Sean and Tsuruta, Kohei Chikira, my good friend and collaborator on previous videos, was skating with us. Jay was always out on the sesh with a Sapporo bringing the best vibes. Lena Sunasawa is so sick too. After the first time we met, she let me and my friend crash on her floor after we missed our last train home (trains in Tokyo stop running around 12:30 a.m.), and she was always down to skate. Benji Saxby started skating with us later on, and I was always so impressed with that wonderful Brit’s skating. Jordan Thackeray visited Tokyo for almost two months and it worked out that I was on a break from teaching, so during that whole time, we skated and filmed a bunch. All of his footage is from that brief period.
So many other homies came out too. I’m really grateful to everyone who wanted to get a clip for the video. Shout out to Evan Franz, one of my oldest friends, a dude I’ve known since Elementary school, who visited Tokyo and got some clips for the video.
Tell me about the title, how did it come about?
The title came about kinda late in the filming process, but the idea happened real naturally. Skating with a diverse group of people, with varying levels of each other’s language, creates some pretty funny combinations of words. Even though most of my friends were better at English than I was at Japanese, sometimes somebody would say something to get their point across in the best way they knew how and it would sound a little off. For the title, I think it was after a particularly fun session, probably at the beach or something (we were hitting the coast a lot to escape the insane Japanese summer), and Tsuruta was juiced. He had a beer in one hand and to nobody in particular he yelled out, “Shout out to my life!” We all cracked up because it was a weird thing to say, but it perfectly encapsulated the vibes we all had at that moment and on our missions filming. I also liked it because I’d used a similar title on a previous video I made. I was saying some Japanese phrase that sounded goofy and my friend was like, “We need to call the video that!” It seemed fitting to keep the theme going so we ran with “Shout Out To My Life.”
“When I first got here you could pick up a Panasonic camera for under $300 because people weren’t really filming videos like that.”Hans Klein.
The crew is eclectic how did you gather all these people to be in your video?
I’d been skating with Kohei, Jay, Kazuo, and Sean for a while. Kohei and I met before the pandemic happened, and when it hit we were skating and filming every day. It was this strange time when I wasn’t working, but was still getting paid by my company, so I had free reign for a few months. We’d link up at a random area of the city and scout spots, a lot of which were never usually skateable because the security is hectic, and then do it day after day until things started to get normal again. In Tokyo there’s not a huge amount of people from overseas trying to skate a lot, so I’d meet people at events or skateparks and sometimes they’d have a similar mentality. Daisuke Kagoshima, a good friend of mine and the owner of the “Golden Age” skate shop in Harajuku, lived in the UK for a long time and introduced me to Jordan.
It’s hard to say how all of it came together, but I feel really lucky how it worked out. Most of us work during the week, so we had a routine to link on the weekends. I tried to skate both days if I could, but some people worked a weekend day so could only meet up one day a week. A lot of the people who I was skating and filming with had a similar motivation to get clips and skate whenever they had free time. A lot of times other people would be on the session too. Maybe a friend brought a friend, and I’d just be hyped to film everybody. I feel like it was part of the experience to film the homies who maybe didn’t always have the same schedule as some of us, but were still willing to put down some cool shit.
Tell me a bit about the scene in Japan.. with a name like Hans Klein it suggests you may have come from outside of Japan so what are some differences between scenes?
Haha yeah for sure. I’m from a small town called Bainbridge Island right across from Seattle in the US. As far as differences in the scenes, the street skating scene here is still quite a bit smaller than in the US. People are killing it, but internally there’s still not quite as much being produced. It’s growing all the time though. Even in the four years I lived in Tokyo I’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of people skating and making videos. When I first got here you could pick up a Panasonic camera for under $300 because people weren’t really filming videos like that. They’ve gone up a bit in price now because more people are filming, but they’re still pretty common and cheap. Aside from that, there was and still is a lot of love for VX filming. I heard someone describe the scene here as being similar to the 90s because of the skating style and the negative attitude from the general public, but I think it’s moving on from that. Before you’d see a lot of people skating ledges at night, but now you’ll see people doing bigger stuff and more daytime footage. But there’s a whole generation that has grown up with the internet and smartphones, so I think that flattens the cultural differences a little bit, and there are so many people who are really pushing things because of that. There are still a lot of haters out there though. I don’t think that has changed a whole lot.
Is this your first video if yes why did you choose to make one if no, what came before, and what is different this time around?
Going way back, in middle school my friends and I tried filming a video. Just kid stuff messing around for the first time, but we took it seriously. We actually had a decent amount of clips, but then his camera bag got stolen at our local skatepark. We were young, so he would just keep all the used MiniDV tapes in his bag without transferring it to a hard drive or anything, so when all the footage was gone we got kinda discouraged and stopped filming.
After that, I kinda dropped off filming for a while. I still skated, but it wasn’t until about a few years ago that I started focusing on a project again. I mentioned before that I was skating with Kohei a lot during the pandemic and we decided it’d be cool to start filming for real. After that we’d meet up and switch off filming each other and whoever was with us. That lasted for about 6 months, and we called that video “Mou Ippai” which means “one more drink” in Japanese. We weren’t working that much at the time so that was a common phrase for sure. That video was filmed primarily by the two of us, and after skating we’d meet up at my house and edit together. We got to premiere that video at Golden Age and it lit the fire to keep going. Kohei and I made another video in the same way called “IKIMASUDAKE,” which is the weird title I was referring to earlier. I think some dudes were talking about my skating, and I was like, “Yeah, I just go! Ikimasu dake!” It’s like a weird, overly formal way of saying, “Just go.” Aside from those two videos I’ve gotten to work on promotional videos with Golden Age, done some filming with Rob Taro (who does Timescan) for events he’s done, and filmed and edited a solo part for Kohei as well.
This video is slightly different in that when I started it, Kohei was working on his solo part, so we diverged from the close collaboration we had going on in the first two videos. I’d started to meet more people, and Sean and Tsuruta in particular were really hyped to go out and get clips, so I was filming them a lot. It was at that time the crew began to grow a bit more, and more people would come out to the sessions. One thing I missed in the States is having lots of homies around, something not quite as common in Japan, so I’d try to get more people out on days we were skating. Another difference is, that while the filming and editing was split for the video I made with Kohei, it just happened that we were focusing on separate projects when I started “Shout Out.” I filmed the majority of this video and edited it by myself, but I couldn’t have done it without the help from Kohei in the previous videos.
I need to know about the soundtrack, tell me how you came to use them and tell me your general process of picking songs and how important that is to you.
Picking music is rough for me. I know how much it can affect a video, and I get DJ anxiety. Basically, when I’m picking music I think about the skaters first and my own preferences after that. First and foremost, I’d like to pick music that fits the person skating and something they would be hyped about. I was always on the train in Tokyo, often for multiple hours a day, so those were great moments to find tracks. Sometimes I’d manically fast forward through song after song, packed in with all the people in suits on their way to work, and to try and uncover a feeling. I’d try to find something that might work for a particular part, but that one is tricky for sure, and I really value the opinions of the people I’m around. I would ask people if they had music in mind for their part, and sometimes they’d give me suggestions, which was a relief because it would give me a place to start. Other times they’d be like, “Nah I trust you, do whatever you want.” I always appreciated that trust, but it’s more pressure for sure. In the end, I’m happy with all the songs and appreciative of the many hours spent on the Tokyo metro.
Japan is notoriously hard to skate, kickouts are often and it is often so busy that people skate at night. Sounds rough How is it being a skater in the Japanese capital?
All the stereotypes about Tokyo being difficult to skate are true, and it’s frustrating because it’s such a beautiful city. In certain parts of Tokyo, there’ll be multiple spots on every block, but because the security is so harsh they look like they’ve never been hit before. As an example of how quick the kickout is, there’s this dense business area that actually has some mellow spots, but you have to cruise around a bunch of super highly guarded zones. I was skating by a beautiful spot the other week with some friends, didn’t even slow down or anything and the security came out because they saw us just eyeing it.
The general public isn’t too stoked about skating either. Often people who are just passing by, even in a relatively quiet area, will stop to chew skaters out. Even more common than that is for police to roll up and ask for everyone’s IDs. Cops are required to get identification whenever someone calls the police on skaters, and depending on the cop, I could be there for half an hour or more while they take down all my information. The times we’d skate in Tokyo, the real urban Tokyo-looking spots, tricks usually have to go down within 5-10 minutes with 15-20 minutes on the higher end.
To avoid some of the harshness of central Tokyo, a lot of the time we’d pick a zone that we knew wasn’t as hot. There are a few go-tos that are probably noticeable in the video, but another thing that was always fun for me was to go spot-searching. Even just a little outside of Tokyo, the mood seems to calm down and the kick-out is more likely to take longer. Sometimes we’d pick a random train station outside of Tokyo, which still felt really urban because even outside of Tokyo the cities are dense, but it was always fun because it’d be an area I’d never see in my life unless I was looking for skate spots. So in a way, because Tokyo is so hard to skate, it actually opened me up to a lot of things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. There’s nothing like a delicious bowl of ramen in a little local spot after skating all day.
Any special stories you would like to share about your project?
So there were a few weeks where we’d been skating in a very central part of the city, and most days after a session we’d get some drinks at a convenience store. The convenience store game in Japan is next level. They’re on what seems like every block, and one of the best things about Japan compared to most of the US is that it’s legal to drink outside. I was hanging with some of the crew in this central area with massive buildings all around us, and after a few drinks outside of the convenience store, someone suggested we get on a roof. I didn’t know until then, but a lot of apartment buildings have pretty easy outdoor access to their roofs. We pushed around for a few minutes and I remember thinking, “Is this a dumb idea?” It was for sure, but that thought left when someone yelled they found one. We all hiked up a staircase that felt like forever, but when we stepped out onto the top of the building it was worth it. We were looking over the city and could see Tokyo Tower shining in the distance with a bunch of other buildings still lit up all around us.
We chilled up there for a while, but eventually, we had to go down to get more drinks and catch the last train. We posted up next to a little police box outside of the train station. Japan has these little mini cop buildings, and it’s really common to see them outside of stations. The cops at this particular cop box were occupied with some women who seemed like they were in distress, so one of my friends thought it’d be a good idea to start skating flat ground outside to mess with the cops a bit. The cops couldn’t do anything because they were busy with the women, but they kept looking at my friend and it was clear they were getting mad. After a while, the women went on their way, and my friend who was skating went to find a place to piss.
We kept talking and just chilling outside this police box when out of nowhere I heard, “Guys! Help me!” I looked over and my friend had one cop on each arm. He looked like some kind of wounded bird, stumbling with his wings propped up by these two cops. We all busted up laughing because the cops, the arms, the look of confusion on his face, all of it was too much. I went to try to convince the cops my friend skating was no big deal, but the cop shook his head. He was like, “Your friend was pissing on our police station!” I couldn’t breathe. We were all making fun of my friend as he was trying to break free from the Police and saying, “Get the fuck off me,” in English even though he was Japanese (something he did a lot to throw the police off). Eventually, he managed to wriggle his way out from the two cops, immediately threw his board down, and sped off as fast as he could. The cops started to run a little, but then just stopped and stared at him disappear into the crowded drinking street near us. At that point we looked at the cops, they looked at us, and they told us to just leave because technically none of the rest of us had done anything wrong. After that night we got on a few more roofs, but my friend never pissed on another cop box again.
Lastly, will there be other projects coming?
I hope so. I’m back in the Seattle area again, but I’m moving down to LA in the next few months. I’ve got some friends there, and I’m stoked to meet more people who want to film and skate.
Well, that was it, thank you for your time Hans!
Thank you, excited that this is coming out now.