Shaping Culture: From Tokyo to the World

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Lono Brazil III is changing ideas on what it is to be a runner in Tokyo

There have been a lot of songs written about having ‘juice’. Far too many for me to use one in a witty opener that demonstrates just what juice is. The important part is this: if you don’t know about it, you definitely don’t have it. And if you know about it, you probably still don’t have it.

One man who absolutely has the juice is Lono Brazil III. The 30 year old, who has heritage in both NYC and Tokyo, is a model, DJ, runner, connector, and perhaps most importantly a culture maker.

He’s spent time gracing the runways of Paris, the pages of Hypebeast, and DJ booths everywhere. When he’s not doing those things, he’s often out running, either as one of the Tokyo coaches of Nike Run Club, or as one of the leaders of local run crew Athletics Far East (AFE). Failing that, catch him at Union’s new Tokyo store.

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Lono’s wide-ranging interests are a reflection of a slowly changing culture amongst the youth in Tokyo. This is at odds with the Japanese tradition of dedicating oneself to the quiet mastery of one particular skill, perhaps best exemplified by the sushi chef who works for years on perfecting sushi rice before they may graduate to the chopping board.

That’s the American side of me that put me in that perspective. It’s also the environment I grew up in. I naturally fell into the things that I’m doing now, and I knew the angle I wanted to take on each of those things. A lot of that comes from my dad. He was in the music industry, and he was DJing, but then he left that and now he’s in modelling. As a 57 year old man, he’s going to Paris Fashion Week, when at 35 he was an A&R for Capitol Records.

If you’re in the right environment and you’re inspired, you can create your own angle and kind of push that forward. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Sometimes if you're unsure that people will like what you’re doing you can lose confidence in it, but not every thing you do has to be perfect every time. Keep feeding the community, you might inspire a few people, and if you do it’s worth it. I guess I’m not a believer in that traditional Japanese approach of doing one thing for your entire life”

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On the topic of community, Lono rolls with Athletics Far East (AFE), Japan’s biggest run crew, who recently dropped their own collab with Nike. Lono explains that AFE wasn’t created by design, instead it grew from humble beginnings.

“Our leader, Jun, is big into sports, he played baseball and was a big fan of the sport. He’s a successful designer and consultant to a lot of sports and fashion brands, so he has this huge network of people who are in both worlds. And because he wanted to keep in shape he brought a group of these people together to run, and gradually it became a bigger thing.

Its never been on the scale of guys like PRRC, they have one run and get 100 people show up, ours has always been like 15-20 people. The network though is pretty crazy; there’s a lot of good connections and it’s just a very positive and inspiring community.

You can learn more about other things besides running by being part of the group”.

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AFE founder Jun
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As Lono explains, running is purely the vehicle for establishing connections at AFE, but the real power of the network is in exploring where else people’s passions lie. Many people come for the running, but then find their other interests match up well the rest of the community.

“Running is just the common thread that runs through and connects the whole city, and brings in the people that are into running and also into the next thing. Like, what else are you into? It’s not even a 5k for the sake of running, its a reason to get everyone together and hang out. We don't talk about running all the time. We bond over other things.”

Its never been on the scale of guys like PRRC, they have one run and get 100 people show up, ours has always been like 15-20 people. The network though is pretty crazy; there’s a lot of good connections and it’s just a very positive and inspiring community.

Lono Brazil III

Guys like Lono and Jun have shown others in Tokyo that taking up running can be a complement to the rest of their lives. That there is indeed a place for balance, bucking the all-in approach.

“You know, the thing I love is proving to the running community and the non-running community that you can run and be good at anything else. In any given season or year, one aspect of your life might become a bigger part than another, but when there’s a race I’m still going to train for it and do my best.

And outside of running I’m still trying to take my career as far as i can. I think proving that is what’s inspiring for people. If you're just thinking about running every single day, mentally it can wear you down. There has to be somewhere else to express yourself.”

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Tokyo appears to be a city of contrasts. There’s the Japanese proverb that (probably butchered by the Western world) translates to ‘the nail that sticks out gets hammered down’, and this push towards conformity and blending in has long been a hallmark of the Japanese. This is of course at odds with Tokyo’s well earned reputation as one of the drivers of global fashion. One quick train ride through any suburb of Tokyo will reveal an overwhelming expression of personal style, and a willingness to take fashion risks that simply aren’t seen in other cities around the world.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and the expression and the way the Japanese express themselves is completely different to the west. The fashion is also very progressive in a sense. But at the same time, what you see is often a uniform of that expression. There are of course those people you’ll see that are low key, but have a totally unique style, but for a lot of the ‘uniform unique’, it’s more of an interpretation of something they’ve seen online or in a magazine, it’s not necessarily an understanding of the culture they’re interpreting”.

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As a long-time runner and NRC Coach, Lono has a deep understanding of the running landscape in Tokyo, and given it’s such a maze for runners, we had to get his tips on where to go if you’re in the city.

“If I'm really training or wanting a good solid run, I will run Gaien, which is right there by the backside of the Olympic Stadium, that's a little loop but its only about 1k and change. So it’s a lot of laps, good for speed sessions. If we’re going long we go to Tama River, it's the river that divides the Tokyo and Kanagawa areas. That river extends all the way to Haneda airport. One way is 16k. I tend to avoid the Imperial Palace, mainly because it just gets so busy. And maybe that’s the ‘anti’ in me that I don't want to run where everyone else runs! I’ll run to the Palace and then turn around and run back, but I won’t actually do the loop around there.”

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Lono’s able to move from fashion to culture to running and speak with the same passion on all of them. It’s clear that he thinks deeply about the world around him. Running will never be his whole life, and that’s not a bad thing. He’s been able to influence a city of runners, both through his work with NRC and through his involvement with the running and culture of AFE.

We speak at length about the state of Japanese distance running, the differences in training and philosophy between Japan’s top two talents, Suguru Osako and Yuta Shitara, and the outlook for the country at the Tokyo Olympics. It’s in these moments that I forget about everything else he’s involved in. And just then, we’re (rudely) interrupted by a German fashion label owner who wants to talk to Lono about his latest range.

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