Kikkoman is one of the biggest names in the world of soy sauce, but the Japanese company with roots in Walworth is now making a name in the world of skateboarding.
Kikkoman Foods has had local significance because its U.S. production headquarters, home of a big share of production of soy sauce and other ingredients in Kikkoman’s North American market, has since 1973 been located in Walworth.
Locals might think they know soy sauce, but they’ve never seen the sauce dished out quite this way.
To wit: There is at least one retail store in Janesville where skateboard enthusiasts can buy Kikkoman skateboards.
We’re talking about functional, usable skateboard decks that are cut, contoured and decorated so they look exactly like a giant bottle of Kikkoman soy sauce. Kikkoman label and everything. You’d be skateboarding on a big bottle of soy sauce.
In what seems like an incomprehensible product licensing crossover, Kikkoman has paired with California skateboarding company Primitive Skateboard on a line of saucy apparel and gear that includes Kikkoman hoodies, jackets and shirts—even air fresheners and slip-on sandals emblazoned with the Japanese soy sauce maker’s namesake, which dates back 300 years.
Plus, there’s the skateboards shaped like Kikkoman dispensers. Again, that’s a thing.
Right now, the Kikkoman skateboards are on the shelves at Zumiez, a youth and young adult clothing shop that caters to skateboarding and skateboarding culture. Zumiez has a location at the Janesville Mall.
Lawrence Meyer, manager of the Zumiez store in Janesville, said his store got Kikkoman skateboards shipped in a couple weeks ago.
Meyer called the collaboration between Primitive and Kikkoman “different but decent.”
He said there’s resurging interest in youth culture for apparel that showcases circa-1990s Japanese anime cartoon characters, along with other name brands, such as Starter sports apparel, that were cultural touchstones in the 1990s, but waned in fashion years ago. Meyer said Kikkoman, on the other hand, strikes him as a stalwart consumer brand that transcends nostalgia and retro-kitsch.
“Kikkoman seems like the Coca-Cola of Japan. It’s a classic brand you’re just going to recognize. And the company’s logo has cool script, too,” Meyer said.
Still, he never expected to see skateboards shaped like soy sauce bottles. He likes the idea of selling products that advertise something else that’s made locally.
It’s a connection Meyer called “sick,” which is a looser way of affirming something is “good”—or in this case, possibly advantageous to his making sales.
“That’s instant recognition, right?” Meyer said. “The soy sauce is right up the street, bro.”
When reached by The Gazette, officials at Kikkoman’s Walworth headquarters weren’t familiar with the company’s crossover into youth skateboarding culture and merchandising.
It took a few calls to Kikkoman’s U.S. sales headquarters in San Francisco, then to Tokyo, Kikkoman’s world headquarters, to get solid answers on Kikkoman’s decision to kick its way into the skateboarding market.
Kinya Igarashi, a marketing official who works in Kikkoman’s foreign operations department in Tokyo, knew all about the partnership and also was aware of Kikkoman’s major manufacturing presence in Wisconsin.
Igarashi said Kikkoman has gotten into licensing deals to put its name on shirts and other apparel in the past, but the Primitive deal is the first time Kikkoman has licensed an entire line of clothing and gear, let alone skateboards.
Igarashi said the partnership has been in development since 2017. Now, retailers such as Zumiez are featuring Kikkoman shirts, coats and slide sandals in their merchandise catalogues, alongside skateboarder favorite brands such as Vans, Converse and Union Bay.
Igarashi said the crossover makes sense because it’s rooted in “street culture” in both the U.S. and Japan.
“At first, it may seem that skateboarding culture has nothing to do with soy sauce,” Igarashi said. “But when you look at skateboarding as a part of street culture, it makes sense. Food ... and seasoning ... is also a part of street culture—a large part,” Igarashi said.
As for soy sauce bottle-shaped skateboards?
“Yes, the soy sauce dispenser skateboard is one of a kind,” Igarashi said. “In addition to eating street foods, this bottle-shaped skateboard is a great way to get saucy on the street. Time to sauce it up.”
We checked on whether Zumiez was still saucy with the skateboards. As of late last week, the Janesville store still had some of the Kikkoman boards in stock.
“You’re all good, homie,” a sales associate at Zumiez said. “We’ve still got ’em.”
It has the makings of a new Cold War, or worse.
The deep chill in U.S.-Russian relations is stirring concern in some quarters that Washington and Moscow are in danger of stumbling into an armed confrontation that, by mistake or miscalculation, could lead to nuclear war.
American and European analysts and current and former U.S. military officers say the nuclear superpowers need to talk more. A foundational arms control agreement is being abandoned and the last major limitation on strategic nuclear weapons could go away in less than two years. Unlike during the Cold War, when generations lived under threat of a nuclear Armageddon, the two militaries are barely on speaking terms.
“During the Cold War, we understood each other’s signals. We talked,” says the top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, who is about to retire. “I’m concerned that we don’t know them as well today.”
Scaparrotti, in his role as Supreme Allied Commander Europe, has met only twice with Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian general staff, but has spoken to him by phone a number of other times.
“I personally think communication is a very important part of deterrence,” Scaparrotti said, referring to the idea that adversaries who know each other’s capabilities and intentions are less likely to fall into conflict. “So, I think we should have more communication with Russia. It would ensure that we understand each other and why we are doing what we’re doing.”
He added: “It doesn’t have to be a lot.”
The United States and Russia, which together control more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, say that in August they will leave the 1987 treaty that banned an entire class of nuclear weapons. And there appears to be little prospect of extending the 2010 New Start treaty that limits each side’s strategic nuclear weapons.
After a period of post-Cold War cooperation on nuclear security and other defense issues, the relationship between Washington and Moscow took a nosedive, particularly after Russian forces entered the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008. Tensions spiked with Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 and its military intervention in eastern Ukraine. In response, Congress in 2016 severely limited military cooperation with Russia.
The law prohibits “military-to-military cooperation” until the secretary of defense certifies that Russia “has ceased its occupation of Ukrainian territory” and “aggressive activities.” The law was amended last year to state that it does not limit military talks aimed at “reducing the risk of conflict.”
Relations frayed even further amid U.S. allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, although President Donald Trump has doubted Russian complicity in what U.S. intelligence agencies assert was an effort by Moscow to boost Trump’s chances of winning the White House. After a Helsinki summit with Putin in July, Trump publicly accepted the Kremlin leader’s denial of interference.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview Friday that Russian behavior is to blame for the strained relationship.
“It’s very difficult for us to have normal relationships with a country that has not behaved normally over the last few years,” Dunford said. “There are major issues that affect our bilateral relationship that have to be addressed, to include where Russia has violated international laws, norms and standards.”
Dunford said he speaks regularly with Gerasimov, his Russian counterpart, and the two sides talk on other levels.
“I’m satisfied right now with our military-to-military communication to maintain a degree of transparency that mitigates the risk of miscalculation,” he said. “I think we have a framework within to manage a crisis, should one occur, at the senior military-to-military level.”
James Stavridis, a retired Navy admiral who was the top NATO commander in Europe from 2009 to 2013, says the West must confront Russia where necessary, including on its interventions in Ukraine and Syria. But he believes there room for cooperation on multiple fronts, including the Arctic and arms control.
“We are in danger of stumbling backward into a Cold War that is to no one’s advantage,” he said in an email exchange. “Without steady, political-level engagement between the defense establishments, the risk of a true new Cold War rises steadily.”
No one is predicting a deliberate Russian act of war in Europe, but the decline in regular talks is a worry to many.
Moscow says it is ready to talk.
“Russia remains open for interaction aimed at de-escalating tension, restoring mutual trust, preventing any misinterpretations of one another’s intentions, and reducing the risk of dangerous incidents,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement last week in response to NATO’s 70th anniversary celebration.
Sam Nunn, who served in the Senate as a Democrat from Georgia from 1972 to 1997, argues that dialogue with Russia is too important to set aside, even if it carries domestic political risk.
“You can’t call time out,” he said in an interview. “The nuclear issues go on, and they’re getting more dangerous.”
Nunn co-wrote an opinion piece with former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Defense Secretary William Perry arguing that the U.S. and its allies and Russia are caught in a “policy paralysis” that could lead to a military confrontation and potentially the first use of nuclear weapons since the U.S. bombed Japan in August 1945.
“A bold policy shift is needed,” they wrote in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, “to support a strategic re-engagement with Russia and walk back from this perilous precipice. Otherwise, our nations may soon be entrenched in a nuclear standoff more precarious, disorienting and economically costly than the Cold War.”
A group of U.S., Canadian, European and Russian security experts and former officials in February issued a call for talks with Russia on crisis management.
John W. Brewer
Colleen M. Rick
Phyllis Vivian Allison
Warnings about kids eating lead paint chips might seem like a thing of the past, but health officials say lead poisoning remains a problem, particularly in Rock County.
Wisconsin Environment and the Wisconsin Public Interest Group released a report April 8 that gave the state a failing grade for its policies that protect children from lead exposure.
The advocacy groups are pressuring state officials to pay for the removal of lead plumbing in school and day care facilities and to create policies to detect and remove lead from school drinking water.
In Rock County, however, kids are exposed to lead primarily because they live in older homes with lead paint, not because they drink tainted water, said Matt Wesson, environmental health supervisor for the Rock County Public Health Department.
Seventy-four Rock County children from birth to age 6 were reported to have lead poisoning in 2016, according to the state Environmental Public Health Tracking Program.
Lead poisoning means a child’s blood level has 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter, according to the state Department of Health Services.
The number of reported lead poisonings is down significantly from 2002, when 750 children were reported to have lead poisoning in the county. That year had the most reported cases since 2000, according to the data.
Rock County had the third-highest number of reported lead poisonings in the state’s 72 counties in 2016, behind Milwaukee and Racine counties, according to the data.
The number of lead poisonings has decreased over time but has started to plateau in recent years, prompting the health department to seek new ways to prevent lead exposure, Wesson said.
Most cases of lead poisoning in Rock County stem from exposure to lead paint in old houses, he said.
Rock County, especially Janesville, is home to a large number of houses built before 1978, when the federal government banned the use of lead paint.
Many of the older homes in Janesville are rentals, which sometimes are not well-kept and pose risks for lead exposure, Wesson said.
Lead exposure often occurs when part of a house—such as a window—sees a lot of friction, and paint comes off in fine chips or dust, thus exposing old layers of paint and moving the old paint dust around the house.
Young kids then come in contact with the dust and accidentally consume it, Wesson said.
He recommends that parents ask their pediatricians to test children for lead exposure at regular checkups or if they think their children are at high risk for exposure.
Lead poisoning can happen to anyone, but it can be particularly damaging to children younger than 6. Lead poisoning can affect mental and physical development which, if stunted at an early age, can have life-long consequences, Wesson said.
Lead poisoning does not have any immediate, visible symptoms, however, which is why Wesson recommends regular testing by pediatricians.
When doctors report a confirmed case of lead poisoning to the state, the state contacts the health department to do a follow-up with the family to identify lead sources in the home and recommend solutions, Wesson said.
The health department allows supervisors to visit homes to look for lead and provide additional resources.