This is the story of when I worked for Yohji Yamamoto.

About three years after I joined the company, I was transferred overseas to Boston. Though I had worked hard at the studio in Japan, with many sleepless nights, in Boston I actually had some free time after work, so I decided to learn something new. I began to do Karate.

One might think that fashion and Budo (martial arts) have nothing to do with one another, but creating a new design is not only done at a desk, nor by using only the brain. Rather, it is something done by the whole body. Therefore, it is necessary to train both body and spirit and I thought that Budo would be the best way. Moreover, when I was transferred to Boston, a friend gave me a book written by Masu Oyama, who established the Kyokushin-kan Karate style. I was impressed by the book and I wanted to learn the Kyokushin-kan style, but there was no training hall in the center of Boston, so I gave up. Then I realised that Mr. Oyama had originally learned Shotokan style Karate, so I found a Shotokan training hall nearby and decided to go there. The teacher was Japanese but all of the students were foreigners. They were much taller and more muscular than me, with various color belts, including black belts. The white belt that I received when starting Karate suddenly felt so small and unreliable. Even so, I went to my Karate lesson twice a week for two and a half years. I never missed a day.

The fact that I was learning Karate quickly got back to the Yohji headquarters in Japan. Indeed, Alan, my boss in Boston, had told Yohji. Yohji and the Japanese staff joked that I had gone to Boston to study Karate and not for the business.
A few months after I started my Karate training, Alan told me the unbelievable fact that Yohji had also started learning Karate, in Japan! I thought it was a joke, but it turned out that Yohji’s mother’s English teacher was also a Karate master, so it was an easy transition for Yohji to study Karate.
After another few months, Alan told me the surprising words that he also wanted to learn Karate. I again thought it was a joke, but he was serious. Suddenly, I was spending time with Alan both at work and at Karate. I realised that Alan and Yohji were the same age, and Alan had a sense of rivalry with Yohji, so this was probably a natural consequence.

When I had worked in Japan, I was so busy that I had no time to meet with my friends nor even take a day off. I only met people in the fashion world. Studying Karate in Boston allowed me to build relationships with multinational people unrelated to fashion and these encounters were so exciting. Karate gave me this special experience.

The training was never easy.
Though the KATA training wasn’t terribly difficult, the KUMITE was really hard as I had to fight by crossing fists to the collar, including almost full contact with black belt students. But I am that kind of perverse person who, when he hears “no,” is even more motivated to do it. If I am told that something is impossible, I want to try it even if it is scary. Nonetheless, I always headed to the training hall cheerfully. There was a song I often recited on the way. “The true moment is always so scary, so there have been a lot of times until now when I wanted to escape”. I would sing this phrase out loud while I walked over.

Returning to Japan after my overseas posting, I discovered that the first floor of Yohji’s house had been transformed into a Karate training hall. Before I had left, it was unprecedented for us to have any sort of group activities at the company. Then the Karate club was established, and after I returned to Japan, I was expected to do Karate there with Yohji and the Japanese staff.

Another three years passed. As I was going into the last training before leaving the Yohji Yamamoto company, Yohji said to me “ Come and fight a match with me!” So, we fought each other - hard (KUMITE). After the training, Yohji said, “I am really happy to have done Karate with you.” I hadn’t realized it then, but in retrospect I understand that Karate was the only way to build a deep relationship with Yohji, especially because I was not a naturally upbeat person and I rarely joined in any after-work activities, particularly things like Karaoke… He told me, “You must come and do Karate even if you are leaving the company.” Unfortunately, I held back.

Since then, I stopped doing Karate, and I wonder if Yohji has too. While I was working there, I had often wondered, “What gift can I give to the Yohji company?” I think that this gift was Karate.

The day before I left for Boston. I was called by Yohji to the president’s room. He shared some concerned words, and then said, “Oh, you should take my U.S.dollars!” He opened his wallet to fish them out, but he could only find two 10 dollar bills. “ I’m supposed to have much more,” he said sheepishly. I tried to refuse, telling him, “I won’t need it,” but he insisted, “come on, this is yours, take it!”

During the nearly three years I worked overseas, I kept the bills in an inner pocket of my wallet, hidden like a magical charm. Of course, I never used them. Even now, looking at the two crumpled 10 dollar bills, I recall my emotion of those days and the affection Yohji showed me.

Isshi KANAMARU 2019.3


入社して3年が経過した頃、アメリカ ボストンへの海外赴任が決まりました。日本のアトリエではハードワークな毎日でしたが、ボストンのアトリエではアフターワークの時間がとれるようになったので、何かを新たに始めたいと思い、空手を始めました。

ファッションと武道、一見何も結び着かないと思うかもしれませんが、デザイン発想も決して机の上だけで行われるものではないし、頭だけを使って行われるものでもないので、やはり身体を全身を使って行われるものなので、身体と精神を鍛えることは必要なことだと思っています。それには武道は最適だと思ったからです。 それともう一つ、渡米の際、友人からもらった極真会館を創設した大山倍達さんの半生を綴った「炎のカラテ人生」という本。その本に感銘を受け極真流を学びたかったのですが残念ながらボストン中心部に極真会館はなかったので断念しましたが、その大山さんが最初にカラテを学んだのが松濤館流という流派でしたのでその流派の道場を探し出しそこに通うことになりました。先生こそ日本の方でしたが、生徒さんは皆外国の方で、自分よりも遥かに大きな身体、厳つい体格で、皆全員色帯または黒帯で、習い初めたばかりの自分の白帯の存在がとても小さく頼りなく感じたのを覚えています。それでも週2回の稽古を2年半ほど一度も休むことなく通い続けました。

道場に通い始めたとたん、自分がボストンでカラテを始めたということは、あっという間に日本のアトリエ内に広まりました。アメリカのボス、アランがヨウジさんにその旨を 話したからでした。ということで、ヨウジさんからも、日本のスタッフ達からも「自分はボストンに (仕事ではなく) 空手をやりに行っている」と云われました 笑。 
それからまた数ヶ月が経過した頃、アランが驚くようなことを云ってきました。「自分も空手を習いたい」と。冗談かと思ましたが本気で、それからアランと同じ道場で仕事だけでなく拳も交わすようになりました。アランはヨウジさんと確か同い年で、彼は何気にヨウジさんにライバル心を持っていたので、その結果だと思っています。 日本では休日もないほどに忙しくしていたので当然外で人と会う機会も殆どなく、会ったとしてもファッション業界の人達ばかりでしたが、その道場では多国籍の人種はもちろんファッションとは全く無関係の人たちばかりでしたので、その出会いは刺激的で、空手を通じてとても特別な経験をすることが出来ました。

型の練習こそそこまでではないものの、組手となるとその厳つい色帯黒帯輩とフルコンタクトではないものの、それに近い衝撃で本気で拳を交えて闘うことになるので、とても過酷でハードなものでした。でも、やるなと云われればやりたくなる、出来るわけないと云われれば挑みたくなる、自分はそんな天邪鬼な性格なので、心では怖いと思っていても、体はそれに順次ず、いつも元気に道場に向かっていました。道場に歩いて向かう際、よく口ずさんでいた歌があります。「本当の瞬間はいつも 死ぬほどこわいものだから 逃げ出したくなったことは 今まで何度でもあった」というフレーズを、よく高らかに歌いながら通っていました。