A brief history of ASICS

Take a walk (or run) through history to learn more about the Japanese legacy of your ASICS shoes and apparel. 

Kihachiro Onitsuka: the man behind the brand

2021 marks 72 years since ASICS was first founded by Mr Onitsuka. 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.

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 2013, ASICS becomes the official supplier to the South Africa Rugby Union (SARU), providing kit and apparel to the Springboks, including the men's and women’s 7-a-side teams and all age-group teams.

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.

In 2021 this was highlighted through the Mind Uplifter Tool in which ASICS supported more people to experience the transformative power of sport, not just on the body but on the mind. The Mind Uplifter Tool uses a combination of facial scanning technology and self-report data collection, gives people the opportunity to capture the impact of sport across 10 emotional and cognitive metrics – including confidence, positivity, calm and focus – to see how different sports impact how they think and feel.

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.