The Commercial Mystery of Bitch Skateboards

archive1

On the plane bound for Nagoya in Summer 1996, my friend Dennis — who had been to Japan many times before — mentioned that there was a Japanese brand called Bitch Skateboards and the logo mark involved the international bathroom door symbol for Men pointing a gun to the head of the international bathroom door symbol for Women. To my seventeen year-old ears, this was the Holy Grail of Engrish: a whole host of products not only emblazoned with a “bad word” but a totally politically-incorrect logo to match. I spent a lot of time during my three weeks in Gifu Prefecture searching for Bitch goods, and for my first two weeks, my closest encounter involved snapping a blurry photo of a tiny tag on a backpack.

I finally hit the mother lode/motherload one day in a neighborhood clothing shop targeted towards teenage girls and soon became the proud owner of a Bitch Skateboards lighter and a ridiculous Bitch Skateboards retractable umbrella. (I liked the idea of using the latter in the U.S., because seriously, who is going to stop you on a rainy day to voice a complaint against the offensive language and imagery on your umbrella.)

In hindsight, I somewhat wince at the idea of brandishing Bitch goods, but I can promise you that my early endorsement was completely ironic. I was very confident that the brand was a misguided and unconsciously-misogynistic commercial venture dreamed up by non-Anglophones in Japan. Much to my chagrin, I later learned through the product tags that Bitch was based out of a city called “Los Angeles, California.” So now the joke was not linguistic mishap as much as licensing gone amuck. As time goes by, the situation has lost its initial humor, but there remains the enigma of how Bitch Skateboards came to take over the second-rate shopping centers of rural Japan in the mid-’90s.

The Internet is very good at solving these kinds of history mysteries, but a simple search came up with very little in the way of thorough explanation. This “Bitch Skateboards” is not the decks we’re looking for. The rise and fall of the brand unfortunately happened in the 1990s Black Hole of Japanese internet coverage.

Judging from the logos and some simple induction, I have deduced that Bitch started as a hostile parody to Girl Skateboards, and The Net seems to name Sal Rocco, Jr. at World Industries as the original prankster (He’s the guy who gave the name “Wee Man” to “Wee Man” of Jackass for those who like trivia). How this low-key parody ended up being licensed to CROWN F.G.CO., LTD in a deal brokered by TENACIOUS LTD. and then distributed through YUBISHA SANGYO CO., LTD is an amazing commercial adventure novel waiting to happen.

My guess is that somebody in Japan saw the graphics in an issue of Big Brother back in the day and immediately snapped up the license. The decision to use the logo on an extremely broad product line is odd — especially as there was much targeting girls out in the countryside, and not, say, urban skaters. I can state that the products were generally cheaply made. My umbrella rusted through within a year of use. (Karma probably also took its toll.)

Back in Tokyo in 1998, Bitch was still around, but rumors indicated that some controversy (Feminists!) caused the brand to rethink their offensive use of symbols. Unless I am imagining things, I saw one Bitch product with the man giving the woman flowers instead of a firearm. (Maybe, there is still some aggressive subtext here in the masculine discomfort with boyfriend duties.) A relatively recent logo I saw looks like a censored and deconstructed version of the original.

I can’t remember the last time I saw Bitch on store shelves, but I certainly have not seen it in a very long time. Besides the Yahoo! Japan Auction pages, the t-shirts only pop up on dubious European commerce sites. I do not bemoan its absence from the market, of course, but boy did that brand succeed wildly in Japan for being essentially a one-off joke on a rival team of skateboarders.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
April 25, 2007

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

11 Responses

  1. DB Says:

    Bitch was in fact started by Sal Rocco, legendary fuckup brother of Steve Rocco – http://www.themanwhosouledtheworld.com I’ve read that he sold the brand to someone in Japan pretty early on and just sort of squandered the money, while they went on to make alot of money off the name.

    I also remember reading about some poor Japanese kid getting clubbed by a bunch of dykes somewhere in California for wearing one of these shirts.

  2. Patrick Says:

    I recall seeing Bitch T’s at Urban Outfitters in the late-90’s.

  3. Rory P Says:

    I seem to see this stuff on Shinjuku homeless.
    Although what I see more is DJ Honda stuff…for years cheap shit with his logo is everywhere. What the heck happened with that licensing deal?

  4. marxy Says:

    DJ Honda is a good parallel. Funny they opened a boutique next to Supreme in NY trying to spread the gospel to Americans when the Japanese kids shopping next door were probably like, Yo, my DAD’s got that hat.

  5. michael Says:

    I guess those responsible for the revamped logo image could be called a son of a bitch.

  6. Aceface Says:

    Always amazed with the audience here transform themselves from CanCan admirer to HipHop B-boys
    instantly.

  7. marxy Says:

    I don’t know if Bitch Skateboards is really a “B-Boy” thang…

  8. Barko Hepplewhite Says:

    Have Scarface airbrushed oversized T’s (the one’s that hang down past the knees) made their way into the Japanese lexicon of hip-hop apparel?

  9. Graham Says:

    Do you think Marxy that there is any chance the people brandishing Bitch in Japan were trying to make an ironic statement about U.S. gun violence? (I can’t tell whether I’m kidding about this.)

  10. Chuck F Says:

    Since Your Clast Blog doesn’t have comments just a potpourri of questions and really obvious thoughts about the most recent Charisma Clerks section, if i may.

    I’ve really been curious lately as to what makes a Hair Salon successful here, as it seems to be entirely based on what Charisma staff / magazine marketing you have(and the places that have been in business for a while like Shima Hair got the right Charisma staff to continue the line).

    In so many of the fashion magazines out there today(Zipper comes to mind as doing this almost non-stop every issue with the excat same places/people), they have profiles of the store staff, Salon staff saying where they buy thier clothes, and example of hair cut designs from that stores. Do you think these profiles are generally paid for? Do They come about because of Party / social connections between the editors and staff?(many of the parties I go to, all have hair salon /store staff that are featured in these magazines and fashion editors who seem to be best buds with the staff.)

    To have your store(hair or retail) be successful and get free media, do you just have to hire/have staff that are in this “in” group and good at party socilizing, then the media will create demand for you? Where do these Charsima store staff/ hair cut people go when they get past the age of 25~ but haven’t made it to mainstream celebirty(no one at the hair cut place I go seems to be beyond 25, besides the director at a deathly 27) and I’ve never seen a store staff member featured in the magazines I read(however cutie/zipper/fruits/choki choki group of magazines deftianly gear towards younger readers) that was older then 26.

    When I go and look at issues of Zipper from 10 years back, They have entirely different hair salons and stores featured. Most of these hair salons still seem to be in business, but almost all these salons I never see staff/haircuts featured anymore or, at parties meet any staff from those places.

    I’m assuming just the nice trend, of people wanting to be new and hip vs old is the answer to the 10 years thing, but curious if any other insight to my other questions.

  11. marxy Says:

    Clast does have comments! You have to click on the title…