Jeremy Strength has been living in Japan for four years, and for the past month he’s been playing tour guide, hosting skaters, graffiti artists, and those considering a move to Japan. We meet at the Machida rail station near Yokohama. It’s my first time meeting Jeremy and I’m nearly two hours late. He presents me with a beer, as we walk and I explain my delay as the effects of partying in Tokyo the last several days, and getting lost that morning. We sit at his favorite local Thai restaurant and discuss skateboarding, growing up in the south, and almost shanking a cab driver in Cambodia. Jeremy’s passion is art, but here is a glimpse of the charismatic, straightforward, progressive person behind that work.
RJ: How did you end up in Hawaii?
Jeremy: I grew up and started skateboarding around Pensacola, a pretty small town in the Florida Panhandle. From making skate-trips all across the U.S. with friends I kind of started to get the idea that there was a lot more going on than what I knew about. So, a little after high school I decided to just start moving west. The big appeal about Hawaii was that it was so far away and I really didn’t know anything about it. I’d heard, and was kind of stoked on the idea, that in Hawaii white folks aren’t the majority or much liked there… and also that I had no concept of why, I mean, it’s not like they teach about occupation and colonization in school. Hawaii seemed appealing because it was like, yeah, it’s the farthest place from home I could possibly go right now and white people get hated on there. I was like fuck yeah, that’s what I need! I’m trying to go get hated on you know, see the other side of this thing.
RJ: There’s an innate adventure-driven, reckless quality about people involved in skateboarding. Can you comment on how that looks in the traditionally reserved Japanese culture?
Jeremy: Skaters anywhere are reckless. I think skaters have a stronger sense of the variations in cultures, and a disregard for social norms. They’re coming from all backgrounds. And are willing to go anywhere they can skate. They usually keep an outsider’s perspective. In Japan, it’s still like that, but they can be a little more conservative. They’re really good about keeping up appearances as to the set norms. But that shit can also come off real quick.
RJ: What are you doing in Japan with art and work?
Jeremy: I work a job now, but I’m transitioning from that to just doing art full-time. There are visa issues with that, and the job is mostly for the visa’s sake. Plus, it gives me a schedule. I mean, living in Hawaii, it was wake up, crack a beer and go to the beach. Which is great when you’re fucking 100 years old, and retired. [Laughter] But I was in my mid-20’s, and I felt like I wasn’t accomplishing as much as I wanted to. I guess just getting to Hawaii was a sort of accomplishment, but I wanted to get more work done, and I wasn’t.
RJ: Right on.
Jeremy: But I was always making art. Mostly drawing and painting. At UH Manoa I dabbled in some other areas like printmaking and what not. Then I did some studies here in Japan, and found a good place to set up for the move. This neighborhood I’m in now is a little cutty. It’s a cross of two major train lines, so it’s lively. It can get pretty rowdy around here. There was a decent sized dust-up between a couple of rival moped gangs recently. But it’s also not too big, it’s still got a local feeling where you can walk down the street and see people you know.
RJ: Can I ask you about recent sobriety?
Jeremy: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s not like, ‘Oh man, I have a problem and I have to go to meetings,’ and all that shit. I just needed to step up my work. I set some goals, and based on time and money constraints, if I’m going to accomplish them, the first thing I’ve got to cut is the frivolity. Basically, for at least the next year or so, I’m putting the shoulder back to the fucking plow and getting the work done. You know, I’d love a beer, but I’ve got to stay focused on the fixed purpose to which I’m set.
RJ: What are some of those goals?
Jeremy: So, I’ll be traveling a lot this year. I’m going to be in Hawaii for a bit, and then to Florida for a month to work and study at Hula Moon Tattoo. Mostly to study the business end, so as to start my own shop here. That’s a big part of the sobriety.
RJ: Any other travel plans?
Jeremy: Yeah, after I get back to Japan, I’m hoping to go back through Southeast Asia. Maybe show some work in Thailand and Vietnam. It’s easy to get over there from Tokyo and so I try to make the trip every other year or so.
RJ: Tell me a reckless story from Southeast Asia!
Jeremy: Well, I went from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia on a little solo mission to see Angkor Wat. I took this local train that goes from Bangkok to the border. You’re just cruising through the countryside for seven hours sitting on a wooden plank, seeing things like some guy walking his elephant and monks walking with no apparent goal. Where the train stops, there are hustlers with a fake border set up to take passports and extort you. Once you get past that, there’s some really hood shit, like young kids pickpocketing and it huffing glue to quell hunger pains.
As you make your way out of Thailand and into Cambodia, there’s this little strip of no-man’s land between the two border checkpoints, and out of nowhere there’s a casino. I was just rollin’ dice with these old Thai ladies in the middle of the day and gettin’ pretty buck. I came up and afterwards some guy shows me the VIP border service, which is basically me bribing the Cambodian border police to get through the border in 5 minutes instead of 5 hours. Then he directs me to a share taxi that’s off the beaten path. It was sketchy, but basically I just said fuck it, I’m gonna see what happens…
…and what happens is this cab driver just takes off, but there’s no one else in the car for the ride share. He goes two blocks and cuts it down some busted dirt road. We’re cruising, and there’s just random brush fire everywhere and some rundown shanty buildings. The road is so bad, we’re basically just idling and I spot some young, maybe teenage guys kind of making an approach. The whole scene just came off as a setup. So I flatten my beer can out and rip it in half. Basically, I made it clear to the driver, if this shit goes south, you’re getting it first. The guy was so shook. He picked up the pace but was so nervous about slowing it down after that he just pummeled through a pack of wild dogs.
RJ: Holy shit! [Laughter]
Jeremy: Yeah, about 15 minutes later we picked up a lady and her kid, then some other folks. Everything turned out ok. Everyone fell asleep and me and the driver had a little laugh. When I got to Siem Reap, my cash card wouldn’t work at the ATM. I ended up barely stretching my casino winnings down to the last 30 cents and making about a 17+ hour trip back to Bangkok with no food or water. Perfect weekend.
interview x rhonda jones