Abebe Bikila 1960 Olympics
Abebe Bikila 1960 Olympics

3 Things We Bet You Didn’t Know About Onitsuka Tiger

    Post World War II Japan was a critical time for the youth that inhabited it. Defeated and shell-shocked from the horrors of war, the self-esteem of the nation was at a low point. Western influences were taking over and basketball became a popular sport amongst high schools in Kobe. Military man Kihachiro Onitsuka was inspired by the game, seeing it as an ideal outlet to encourage and motivate the young through sport. He established Onitsuka Co, Ltd in 1949, and the company has been running the marathon of success ever since.

    Kihachiro Onitsuka

    Kihachiro Onitsuka

    The first Onitsuka sneaker looked like a straw sandal

    Onitsuka’s first sneaker was originally met with mockery when the design resembled a straw sandal rather than anything related to sport. Made as the official footwear for the Kobe High School Basketball Team, locals laughed at Onitsuka’s attempt to create an innovative shoe straight out of his living room. Designer Yukio Matsumoto, who worked for Onitsuka, was not ready to give up. He spent countless hours watching teams play, observing their stop-start movements that caused many of them to slip on the court’s shiny wooden floors. This resulted to Matsumoto’s idea of putting suction cups on the shoe’s sole, an idea that randomly sprung up while eating a bowl of octopus tentacles.


    They were designed to fit athletes every need

    Five years later, Onitsuka had found its place amongst established companies in Japan. Ready to expand to running shoes, they consulted with top marathoner Tooru Terasawa on the biggest problem a runner encounters while in motion. He simply mentioned, “blisters”. The company went to work, creating a sneaker with loose clothe on the top and holes on the side to achieve a “breathable shoe”. A double-layered sole at the bottom protects the feet from the usual traumas of the sport. The fame of Onitsuka’s running shoes spread internationally when iconic Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, known for winning an Olympic medal without footwear, opted Onitsuka as his shoe of choice in 1957.

    The signature stripe design was created just as a way to differentiate themselves from other sneaker brands  

    The process of creating a trademark look was acknowledged in 1960, where the company studied 200 variations of designs to allow people instant recognition of the Onitsuka brand. In 1966, the company introduced the simple stripe design that lines the side of all Tiger Onitsuka sneakers. Christened the Mexico 66, the shoe was to be worn by the Japanese team at the Mexico Olympics of 1968.

    Text by Chino R. Hernandez


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