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.