Kihachiro Onitsuka: the man behind the brand

2018 marks 69 years since ASICS was first founded and the 100th anniversary of Mr Onitsuka, the man that started it all. From a small four-employee business making sneakers for schoolchildren, to one of the world’s most influential sportswear brands, the ASICS brand has come a long way.  

Over the past decades, ASICS has become one of the most recognised performance sportswear brands for footwear and apparel. From Olympic athletes and star players, to everyday runners, ASICS is now a household-name for performance sportswear all over the world.

Looking back to where it all began, the story of ASICS started with a young man, a dream about a basketball shoe, and an octopus.

Where it all began: reinventing the basketball shoe

Back in 1949, Kihachiro Onitsuka, a military veteran, was making footwear for children. Setting up the company, Onitsuka Co., he started off with just four employees and a small office.  

Living in post-war Japan, Onitsuka believed that in order to raise the spirit and morale of the Japanese youth, he needed to promote healthy lifestyles through sport and athletics.

Mr Onitsuka’s first big venture was to revolutionise the basketball shoe.

At the time, basketball shoes weren’t designed for the fast-paced movement and much-needed grip on the court. After several trial and error attempts, Onitsuka stumbled upon inspiration in his octopus salad. Noticing how the octopus sucker had such strong grip, he realised that if he could just mimic the shape of the sucker on his rubber shoe, he could create a basketball shoe that would achieve the kind of grip that was needed.

So that’s exactly what he did.

The shoe – named the Onitsuka Tiger – would go on to be worn by the Japanese Olympic basketball team and pave the way for decades of technical development, innovative footwear and the growth a global sporting brand.

Sound body, sound mind: the ASICS philosophy

Since it was first founded, ASICS was built of a strong philosophy of “healthy mind in a healthy body” – named after the Latin saying “mens sana in corpore sano.”

This philosophy became the legacy that has been an essential part of the brand to this day.

For Mr Onitsuka, being active was an essential part of your overall wellbeing. To help others achieve that, he wanted to make sportswear that would support every athlete, inspire movement and encourage everyone to have an active lifestyle.

Standout moments in ASICS history

Starting off with the Onitsuka Tiger shoe, Mr Onitsuka went on to pioneer countless footwear innovations for every corner of the sporting field.

Throughout the 50s and 60s, Onitsuka developed innovative tennis, volleyball and running shoes. Technical development continued on through the 80s, when ASICS released GEL material to running shoes – a revolutionary cushioning technology which remains the go-to choice for runners over the world. ASICS even went on to design footwear for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

As the company continued to grow, ASICS expanded across the globe, setting up offices and factories in the US, Germany, South Africa, Peru, Brazil, Australia. Today, ASICS has flagship stores, offices, research institutes and production factories across Asia, Africa, Europe and America.

While the brand grew, it’s cultural impact started growing as well. In 1978, Bruce Lee sported a pair of Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 shoes in his film Game of Death. This iconic yellow shoe would later inspire Tarantino’s famous lead character in Kill Bill.

Today, the cultural impact has shifted towards collaboration with designers, creatives and athletes from all over the world. ASICS sets out to promote fitness and inspire younger generations through footwear collaborations and encourage everyone to share their movement story.

“To me, ASICS is all about getting out there and being active. When I was younger, having an active lifestyle was the driving force to achieving my dream of playing for the All Blacks. By partnering with ASICS, I now have the opportunity to inspire younger generations to move and achieve their dreams.”

Supporting our local athletes

In the same way Mr Onitsuka was inspired to help young Japanese people, we see our role in New Zealand the same way.

Over the past 40 years, ASICS has been a part of the Kiwi sporting culture. Last year, we opened our first flagship store in Auckland, and we continue to find new ways to support and and encourage Kiwi’s to be active and pursue all kinds of sporting achievements. From sponsoring events like the Queenstown and Auckland marathons, to partnering with top athletes and organisations.

Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of kids cross the finish line at the Weet-Bix Kids TRYathlon, we partnered with the Vodafone Warriors to give back to their community, and supported Kiwi tennis star, Michael Venus, as he battled it out for a grand slam title.  

By having an active role in the Kiwi sporting culture – from pro athletes, to grassroots sporting events – we can continue to champion Mr Onitsuka’s dream and encourage every Kiwi to get out and have an active lifestyle.

Pioneering performance sportswear: the future of ASICS

The moment of inspiration that Mr Onitsuka found back in 1949 remains at the core of the ASICS brand.

In all of our ventures, whether it be collaborating with athletes and designers, or testing out new technologies at the ASICS Institute of Sport Science, we continue to focus on how we can foster active lifestyles and support every person to get out there and move.

Mr Onitsuka passed away in 2007 at the age of 90. Up until his passing, he remained actively involved with the company, always experimenting with new designs and pushing the boundaries to create products that would achieve the thing he wanted most: to inspire and nurture an active lifestyle for everyone.