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.”