Mr Onitsuka

All you need to do after falling down is to stand up again.

Kihachiro Onitsuka

Kihachiro Onitsuka started his life as a “salaryman” in the postwar days but his boss was a person who sought nothing but his own self-interest, so Onitsuka walked out on him.

As a survivor of the war, he had a thought that it was his mission to help the young to become good members of the society. Then one day Onitsuka heard the saying, “If you pray to god, pray for a sound mind in a sound body.” He knew that sport was the best way to educate the young intellectually, morally and physically. He chose to make sports shoes because he thought it would be the best way for him to help the young play sports.

He was a beginner of shoe-making. After much trial and error and many days and nights in his office, he delivered his first basketball shoe to a high school head coach. Onitsuka was told rather bluntly that his shoes could hardly be called basketball shoes and that he had to learn more about the game. Onitsuka took the coach’s advice and checked the movement of the athletes during practice; finding out that grip of great importance.

When Onitsuka’s mother made vinegared cucumber with octopus for dinner one evening, his eyes suddenly focused on octopus suction cups, and the thought of applying the octopus suction system to the shoe soles popped up. But the new shoes had so much grip that the players tumbled over. Then, Onitsuka made the suction cups shallower, producing Onitsuka Tiger basketball shoes that allowed for quick stops and dashes. The high school team that wore his shoes won the championship.

His confidence rose with the production of quality shoes, but still the brand awareness was low and there were no distribution channels. Onitsuka became a travelling salesman, but rather than staying in hotels, he slept on benches in train stations. He started suffering from tuberculosis and the doctor told him to get hospitalized right away. Fortunately, a new medicine was introduced. As he regained his health, he became more positive, and he began to increase the types of athletics shoes. Within a year, the disease struck again and the doctor said he was dying.

Onitsuka then put his “futon” mattress in a small room in his office. His throat and vocal chords were so infected that he lost his voice but every morning he called the employees to his sick bed and wrote instructions on a piece of paper. He felt his last day was coming but thanks to yet a new medicine, the fever went down, gradually his voice came back, and he recovered.

Onitsuka then focused his efforts to develop marathon shoes that didn’t cause blisters. One top rank runner told him that if he made shoes like that, he would run a marathon on his hands. In a time when literature on marathon running was still sparse, Onitsuka read as many kinds of books as possible but there were still many questions left unanswered.

One evening in the bathtub, when Onitsuka looked at his feet, he realized that he knew a lot about shoe materials but nothing about his feet. He went to see a professor and came to understand that blisters are similar to burning. As to how to avoid blisters, he got a hint one day while riding in a taxi that suddenly stopped because of overheating since the driver had forgotten to add water in the radiator.

Onitsuka thought of using water to cool the feet, but the result was terrible because it got slippery when the water flushed out of the shoes. Maybe the air-cooling system could work, he thought.

He used a rougher mesh for the shoe’s upper and he made holes in the front and on the back to make it more breathable. When the shoe hit the ground the hot air was pumped out, and when it toed off, the cool air came in. Onitsuka asked the athlete who had previously said he would run the marathon on his hands to try the new shoes. At 30 km, almost nothing had happened to his feet. After completing 42.195 km, the bottom of his feet were a little red but there were no blisters.

It is true that once Onitsuka started something, he did not get satisfied unless he completed it. If you started out with the moist difficult thing and completed it successfully, then nothing is difficult after that, he told people. And he would rather be cheated than cheat somebody else. Some people thought he was too honest but Onitsuka never stopped this spirit for 89 years.

Maybe he was not always too clever, and to the last minute he was a stubborn shoe guy, but he became happy when he made people around him happy. He referred to his company as a family. The father of this family suddenly passed away on September 29, 2007.

Every April in Japan when university graduates started working at ASICS, Kihachiro Onitsuka read out loud five definitions of sportsmanship spirit that have been passed on from ancient times to today:

First:

A sportsman should learn to respect rules.
The observation of rules is a fundamental requirement as a good member of society.

Second:

A sportsman should learn to be courteous toward not only the opponents but also anyone around.
He should behave courteously at all times and treat people the way he wants to be treated. Besides, it is important to show gratitude whenever desired.

Third:

A sportsman should learn to prepare himself so that he is able to display his best in any given condition.
If a sportsman wants to obtain good results he has to train with a positive, passionate, creative, enduring and challenging attitude, which is also applicable for being successful in life.

Fourth:

A sportsman should learn the importance of teamwork.
By cooperating and helping each other, not only higher results will be obtained as a team but also individual abilities and skills can be improved more efficiently and effectively. To attain higher goals in life, help from many people is necessary.

Fifth:

A sportsman should keep his goals and make every effort for self-development to reach his goals.
A sportsman should learn about endurance.

At the time of the postwar turmoil, Onitsuka thought about the importance of sports in daily life, social activities, and business. Although people’s standards today are not the same, and although life is getting more and more difficult, the above-defined sportsman should be the role model for all people who are living today.

Let’s add one more definition:

Sixth:

As a sportsman, all you need to do after falling down is to stand up again.
If you fail, keep going until you succeed.

And now, please read all six definitions again by replacing “sportsman” with “I”.