Yo! My name is Zen Shimada. I'm from Tokyo, Japan and was born on the 13th of May 1993.
How did you hear about Freerunning for the first time?
I was 15 years old and didn't do any sports, but I liked sports, and I wanted to do one. In Japan there are school clubs for all kinds of athletics, everybody was in one except me. I tried all of them. Basketball, Swimming, Track and Field, Baseball, there was always something missing. I didn't know what.
Then one of my friends showed me a compilation video in class. It was a mix of Breakdancing, Tricking, Tumbling and also Parkour. I remember thinking "I didn't know the human body could even do this!!".
How soon after did you start yourself?
Pretty much right away! The same friend and I tried it after school. Walking home, we searched for things to climb on and jump off, jumped over bushes and practiced different rolls on the grass.
I didn't speak any English back then, and we didn't even know how to pronounce Parkour. That's why we didn't research what it was all about. We practiced EVERYTHING we thought was cool. Jumps, balance, slides, windmills and so much more. I believe that this ultimate freedom was excellent for me and built the foundation for my style.
So when did you learn what this is all about?
At 16 I saw a big Tempest Freerunning video called, I FREERUN LA, and knew I had to visit them. There was a contact form on their website, and I left a message. Paul Darnell talked to me and gave me an address to visit.
I flew all the way and ended up at a gymnastics gym. Later on, the Tempest guys would open their gym, but this was a few years before. Inside the gym, I met Victor Lopez, and he said: “Welcome to LA you're part of our family.”
Victor had toured with Sebastian Foucan when they performed around the world with Madonna. He knew the history of Parkour and educated me about what tricks there are, the differences between Parkour, Freerunning, Tricking and much more.
It sounds like it was a good trip!
It was so good that I never wanted to leave. I'm serious, one week in I decided just to stay. Japan has two months of summer vacation, and I never went to the airport to get my flight home. I was missing school, and of course, my parents weren't happy.
I stayed on the floor or couch with different Freerunners I had met. A month later my visa ran out, and I had no choice but to return.
Haha, amazing! So that journey got you hooked on Parkour?
It was all I wanted to do. In Japan, we have different versions of school to choose. One where you study during the day, an evening-school and home-schooling. I realized that being home-schooled meant I could study on my own time and travel more. I switched it over straight away and rushed through my studies. The faster I passed my tests, the more I could travel.
For a while, I only spent six months out of a year, in Japan. The other months were split in between LA and some time in Denmark.
Wow, I had no idea! In 2011 the Red Bull Art of Motion came to Yokohama, Japan and you competed, how was it?
I was 18 at the time, and the experience shaped me. It was one of the biggest moments of my life. As soon as I heard about the event, I wanted to compete.
Before the competition, you said in an interview: "In Japan, we don't have any Freerunning stars, the kind of people who can compete equally with international athletes. When you have something to aspire to it makes a big difference. It's crucial to have heroes. So I want to become a Freerunning hero for Japan."
Where did those thoughts form?
In the beginning, all I cared about was tricks and jumps. I wanted to do things bigger, better and smoother.
Because of my journeys, I had the opportunity to see what the Freerunning culture was all about. People were so kind, welcoming and supportive. The history and roots of our sport impressed me, and I felt like part of the community. I fell in love with the culture of Freerunning and felt like it had given me so much.
I thought to myself: "Now it's your turn to give back. What can you do?". I looked around and saw what existed. Coaches were educating new talent and enough people organizing events and jams for the community. I thought about what was left to do in Japan.
Nobody was representing us in the media. The public perceived us as either idiots or stuntmen. I wanted to be a voice to represent our authentic culture.
What is Vaults101? You wear their shirts a lot.
It represents the Tokyo Parkour Community and our roots. The name is inspired by one of the most old school videos. Vaults 101 was a compilation of all the vaults people had invented. We got all our moves from that video.
How is being a Freerunner in Japan different from anywhere else in the world?
We live on an island, so naturally, people think more inwards. They tend to be more close-minded. Maybe they think: “I can’t do it because I’m Japanese.” Most people don’t feel unique or talented. I don’t know why.
The rest of the world feels very far away. Most renowned Freerunners feel so far away, on the other side of the world. So it seems almost impossible ever to meet them, and because most people don't speak English, it's even harder to feel included.
And how did you get together with Team Farang?
Well, the first time we met each other was at the Art of Motion in Japan, but we didn't stay in touch afterward. One day Jason sent me a message out of the nowhere that went pretty much like this: "Hey Zen! Hope you are doing good! We are shooting a video with Pasha in Los Angeles the next months. Do you wanna come and hang out?".
A few weeks later I arrived and was surprised. I had seen the Farang videos but had no idea what was going on Behind the Scenes. I assumed there would be a film-maker with them, a small crew or someone to help out with locations or something.
Instead of that, it was just Pasha and Jason with a camera doing it all by themselves. Pasha was driving the rental car from spot to spot, and after a long day, we would all return to Chad Bonanno and Luci Romberg's house.
For months we slept on a mattress in their garage and made what later became the Pasha-The Boss video. Seeing the whole process changed me a lot. It inspired me to go and create more myself.
I started thinking about Parkour, Filming, and Clothing. I realized that learning is the key. I taught myself how to Freerun, why would I limit that only to movement? I could teach myself how to shoot, edit and design. I liked this style and the lifestyle they lived.
Two years later Jason visited Japan for a month. I had grown a lot, and we wanted to do more together. So I joined the Team.
What's your most favorite thing to do outside of Freerunning?
Honestly, I can’t come up with anything. I never drew a line between what is Parkour and what isn’t. Everything I do becomes connected with it. Clothing, performing, learning English, it’s all related with Freerunning.
Even when I watch a movie or read a book, I can be inspired by a new move, reading a book I might learn a good word to use on an Instagram-post.
The last years you have been booked for many fashion shoots, invited to fashion week and seen the entertainment world from the inside. What did you learn from it?
Yes, in Japan this world has noticed me a lot. It has been crazy.
Parkour is so free; I can do whatever I want when I want. On a TV shoot, modeling job or a movie there are many limitations. The theme of the project gives you rules of what you can do or not.
For example, we might be shooting photos for a brand, and I’m wearing a shirt with their logo on my chest. The photographer probably requests something like this: “Give me a good move where your chest faces the camera.”
In the beginning, this was sometimes annoying to me; I just wanted to do the best action possible. Today I enjoy it. I learned to see it as a challenge, another fun obstacle to overcome. Over time these experiences helped me grow as an athlete, too.
We watched the first season of the Japanese Tv show you are in, High & Low. Rude Boys is your crew your character is a part of, and they all do Freerunning. What is shooting such a big TV show like?
It’s a lot of fun! Most people never get to experience anything like it. I don't just get to act; I'm a freerunning character.
Getting to shoot action scenes like Jackie Chan is my favorite part. If I want to do a particular move, they can build the obstacle for me, and I can practice it with crash mats.
You could swap lives with somebody for a day, who and why?
I don't know. I'm really happy being me.
What's your favorite Freerunning Shoe?
For now, I will say "Supra Hammer Run".
What’s your favorite meal after a long training day?
Horse Meat! A rice bowl with horse meat or horse meat sushi, I love it.
Do you have a favorite place to visit?
LA and Bangkok!
Give us 5 Japanese artists we need in our playlist?
And finally: What's one Japanese word everybody should know?
Ichinichi ichizen! - do one good thing a day