Issue 32 | 5 Minutes With
5 MINUTES WITH
TARO TAMAI OF GENTEMSTICK
“There will always be mountains, where the wind blows and the snow falls...that is where we search for undiscovered lines, and no one can take that away.”
– Taro Tamai
Taro Tamai – founder of the iconic Gentemstick snowboards – is an avid snowboarder and surfer, and a legend in the snow-surf culture. To Tamai-san, the wave and the snow are very similar elements, being contact points between the rider and the sky; and both surfing and snowboarding offer pure, soulful and exhilarating experiences. The Gentemstick boards are designed and made with this sense of freedom in mind, to allow the rider to explore, experience, and be one with the elements of nature. The What’s On team were fortunate enough to get some one-on-one time with Tamai san to find out more about his philosophy, the concept and evolution of Gentemstick through the last 20 years.
Tell us a little about Gentemstick, and what’s unique about it?
Back in the 70s and 80s when snowboarding started and began to gain popularity, snowboards (or ‘Snurfboards’, as the first snowboards were called) were designed as wider versions of skis. These early snowboards made by ski manufacturers lacked the provisions for a snow-surf style of riding, as skiing is more of a two-dimensional “flow”, whereas snowboarding seeks to encapsulate a three- dimensional experience.
While working for another company in the 1990s, I had the opportunity to design and develop a board that was more suited for a snow-surf riding experience that snowboarders longed for. And Gentemstick was started in 1998.
What’s your inspiration for the design and graphics of your boards?
While technology is constantly improving, I believe the most important design aspect of a board is its shape. I draw my inspirations for the design of the boards’ shapes from nature, such as the wings of a bird, or the movement of a fish.
This year is Gentemstick’s 20th anniversary, congratulations! Over these past two decades, what has been your proudest moment?
Apart from the Gentemstick boards, my aim for Gentemstick was to create a space that represents the soul and essence of snowboarding and snowboarders. Gentemstick in Niseko is a place to bring the snowboarding community together, where they are able to share their views and passions.
I believe the core of snowboarding is about the rider’s freedom to interact with the natural environment. Though snowboarding has taken a more commercial route, the idea of snow-surfing, of being one with nature, has returned in recent years, not only in Japan, but in the
world as well. It is great to see that this idea has gone full circle and returned to America, the birth place of modern snowboarding. The greatest challenge was that it took time and perseverence, but to be part of the snow-surf movement has been a great achievement for both Gentemstick and me.
How did Gentem Cafe come about?
Before this building was built, Gentem Cafe was located in a Mongolian “tent” (or a yurt) beside the Gentemstick shop. The idea of the tent came about while traveling in Mongolia, where I met some nomads who invited me to stay the night in their tent. I was very moved by their hospitality.
When I returned to Japan, I wanted to pay forward this sense of welcome by creating a space for people to come together. Gentemstick, as a shop, would only attract snowboarders, but having a cafe with it would open it to everyone. To me, Gentem Cafe represents the spirit of that tent where I was so warmly welcomed.
Apart from snowboarding, what are your other passions?
I’d like to do my part to protect nature – it is important for us to impart this mentality [in our lives] so that nature can be preserved for the next generation.
Niseko is becoming increasingly popular as a ski destination and is now known as one of Japan’s best ski resorts. What are your thoughts?
A good ski resort does not only depend on the amount and quality of snow, and the heights of the mountains. While these factors contribute to the making of a good ski resort, what’s more important are the personalities and terrain of the mountains. Every mountain is different and has factors that make it great. To me, it’s the combination of the personalities of the mountains in Niseko with the snowfall that make Niseko a great ski resort... and the perfect place to ride Gentemstick boards.
Niseko has seen a lot changes over the past 20 years. What do you hope the changes will bring to Niseko’s future?
Niseko is such a great place, and it is inevitable that Niseko will become increasingly populated as it grows. I sensed that from the time I moved to Niseko. In recent years, Niseko has been driven by the speed of development and it is important to pause and reflect on how this would impact the future of the place. My wish is for people to cultivate a deeper appreciation for nature and the snow. Snow is nature’s gift to us, and we should learn to appreciate it in all forms.
What are your hopes for Gentemstick for the next 20 years?
To me, the journey of Gentemstick has only just begun. I hope we are able to continue on this journey.
Any last thoughts you would like to share with our visitors?
Thank you for visiting our home, Niseko. I hope you get to know the real Niseko – the people that make this place what it is, and enjoy the hospitality that we extend to both locals and visitors here.