In an attempt to overcome the dread of postwar depression in 1949, military officer Kihachiro Onitsuka, at the age of 32, created Onitsuka Co Ltd. His vision was simple; raise youth self-esteem through athletics.
In 1952, the company hoped to design a basketball shoe that would help player performance. Onitsuka had released such a shoe, but welcomed only mockery from those who wore them. As a result, Yukio Matsumoto, who worked for Onitsuka, started examining how basketball players moved across the courts in order to build a better shoe. After careful observations and improved design, Onitsuka released an alternative shoe. With added cups and small spaces in the soles, this basketball shoe proved effective on the courts. The rising demand for this shoe across Japan helped Onitsuka Co Ltd. move forward. By 1955, 500 Onitsuka sports shops were in place throughout Japan.
During the 1950s, Onitsuka made breakthrough advancements in the shoe industry. With the help of marathon runner Tooru Terasaw, Onitsuka released a shoe that allowed runners to cover long distances without developing blisters. With loose cloth used for the top of the shoes, along with holes at the sides and front, and finally a two-layered sole, the revolutionary “breathable” running shoe was created. Terasaw took the shoes out for a 42 km and 195 meter run without getting a single blister.
Abebe Bikila won the Olympic Marathon of 1956 barefoot. This frightened Onitsuka’s future. The following year, Bikila traveled to Japan for the Mainichi Marathon. While in Japan, Bikila received a visit from Onitsuka’s representative asking why he never wore shoes during the race. His answer, he “simply had no running shoes to run in.” When Onitsuka explained the possibility of serious foot injury in Japan’s “glass-littered” floors, Bikila agreed to wear the company’s shoes. The next day, Bikila wore the shoes, and won the marathon. Ever since then, Bikila wears shoes to every race.
In 1977, Onitsuka agreed to partner with GTO and JELENK in order to create the powerhouse that is ASICS. Onitsuka served as a great foundation for what is presently known as one of the world’s leaders in the shoe industry.