Onitsuka Tiger

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Onitsuka Tiger
Founded1949; 75 years ago (1949)
FounderKihachiro Onitsuka [ja]
ProductsSneakers, clothing
RevenueIncrease ¥43 billion (2022)[1]
ParentAsics Corporation

Onitsuka Tiger is a Japanese sports fashion brand started in 1949 by Onitsuka Shōkai (鬼塚商会, Onitsuka Co., Ltd), a sports shoes company founded by Kihachiro Onitsuka. Onitsuka Shōkai changed its name to Onitsuka Co., Ltd. before becoming Asics Corporation in 1977. Since 1977, Onitsuka Tiger has been sold as a lifestyle brand of Asics.[2]


Early days[edit]

Onitsuka Tiger's first product was a basketball shoe resembling a straw sandal. The shoe was a failure, and Onitsuka returned to the design stage to focus on the way basketball players started and stopped on the floor. By adding cups and small spaces in the soles of his basketball shoes, Onitsuka made a more effective shoe in 1952 which soon became popular throughout Japan.[3] In 1955, the company increased its business to 500 sports shops across Japan.[4]

Onitsuka Tiger worked with marathon runner Toru Terasawa in 1953 to develop a running shoe that would keep long-distance runners from developing blisters. Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila started wearing Onitsuka Tiger shoes in 1957, the first time in his running career he had ever worn shoes, convinced by Onitsuka that they would be superior to his barefoot style.[5] The shoes were also worn in 1958 by short-distance runner Oliver Skilton when he won bronze in the Continental European games. In 1959, the sneakers brand launched the Magic Runner with improved technology on ventilation to prevent blisters and increase comfort.[6]

Early partnership with Nike[edit]

In the late 1950s, University of Oregon middle-distance runner Philip Knight was coached by Bill Bowerman, one of the top coaches in the US. Bowerman was also known for experimenting with the design of running shoes to make them lighter and more shock-absorbent. After attending Oregon, Knight continued his studies at Stanford University, where he wrote his MBA thesis on the marketing of athletic shoes. After receiving his degree, Knight travelled to Japan where he contacted Onitsuka Tiger Co. Ltd, and convinced the company that their product had a market in the US. In 1963, Knight received his first shipment of Tiger shoes, and later he and Bowerman invested $500 each to form Blue Ribbon Sports (later known as Nike, Inc.).[7][5] Blue Ribbon Sports had their first store on the East Coast in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts, which was very near the Boston Marathon route. Jeff Johnson was the manager, and he attended many Amateur Athletic Union meets and high school cross country races, where he sold Onitsuka brand shoes.[8]

Development of brands[edit]

Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 in white/blue/red

In 1964, Onitsuka listed the company on the Kobe Stock Exchange and later on the exchanges of Osaka and Tokyo.[2] Onitsuka launched its "Olympic Line" after years of gathering suggestions from top athletes. This series marked the introduction of the Asics trademark design of two vertical lines intersecting a pair of lines emanating from the heel of the shoe, said to provide reinforcement as well as decoration. The first shoes to feature the Tiger Stripes were the Mexico 66 model, introduced two years before the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.[6]

In 1968, Blue Ribbon Sports started importing Onitsuka to the American market, including the TG-4 "Marathons", with nylon uppers and flat rubber soles, and their training shoe, the Cortez, with an all-leather white upper and thickly padded soles. They also had an all-around exercise shoe called the "Bangkok" and racing spikes. In the 1970s, Onitsuka Tiger introduced the "Fabre", standing for the fast break move in basketball. The Japanese team wore the Fabre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, where they finished 14th. In 1972, sportswear companies GTO, Jelenk, and Onitsuka combined their financial and athletic positions to build a regional sales office near Hokkaido for the 1972 Winter Olympics.[2] In 1976, Finnish runner Lasse Virén won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal while wearing Onitsuka Tigers, after having worn Adidas while winning those events in the 1972 Olympics.[9]

In 1977, all sports brands of the company were merged into Asics Corporation.[3][6]

2000s relaunch[edit]

Onitsuka Tiger shoes in store in Osaka

Asics relaunched Onitsuka Tiger in 2002, capitalizing on the trend of vintage sneakers. In 2003, Uma Thurman wore gold-colored Onitsuka Taichi sneakers with black stripes with her yellow outfit in the movie Kill Bill.[5] By 2007, the brand had opened 23 standalone stores.[3] In 2008, Onitsuka Tiger launched a premium series, Nippon Made.[10] In 2009, to celebrate its 60-year anniversary, Onitsuka Tiger launched its history book Made of Japan.[11] In 2015, Onitsuka Tiger partnered with US-based design company Bait to create a Bruce Lee series.[12] In 2017, sales of the brand grew by 20% to 31.9 billion yen.[10] In 2023, Harper's Bazaar predicted the Mexico 66 to be the next "it-shoe", with several celebrities spotted picking up the trend.[13]

Notice of End of Sales on US Website In November 2023 Onitsuka Tiger US announced that they would no longer be selling to US customers through their US website as of November 30th, 2023. Sales continue on other global Onitsuka Tiger Sites including Australia, EU, Japan, Korea, Singapore, UK etc.

'Dear Customer, We would like to thank you for your continued patronage of Onitsuka Tiger. We would like to inform you that we will be discontinuing the sale of products on onitsukatiger.com at the end of November 2023. We would like to thank you for your patronage and sincerely apologize for any inconvenience which may cause.' [14]


Since Onitsuka Tiger was incorporated in 1949, shoes have been created for football, running, martial arts, basketball, cheerleading, volleyball, cross-training, track and field, wrestling, golf, cricket, fencing, and tennis. The most famous brand of Onitsuka Tiger shoes is the striped Mexico 66 Line.

Asics still sells vintage-style Onitsuka Tiger shoes, including the Mexico 66. In Asics' portfolio, Asics is oriented towards sports performance, Asics Tiger focuses on retro and lifestyle sportswear, and Onitsuka Tiger has premium positioning and designer collaborations.[15][16][17]


  1. ^ "ASICS Integrated Report 2022" (PDF). ASICS. July 31, 2023. Retrieved August 15, 2023.
  2. ^ a b c "Asics History". Archived from the original on 2 March 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  3. ^ a b c Bogaisky, Jeremy (1 October 2007). "Farewell To The Father Of The Octopus Shoe". Forbes. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  4. ^ Anyanwu, Obi (April 8, 2017). "Onitsuka Tiger opens US pop up in New York City". Fashion Network. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  5. ^ a b c Ryall, Julian (2 November 2019). "Bruce Lee, Uma Thurman and the story of Onitsuka Tiger shoes". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  6. ^ a b c International Directory of Company Histories. Vol. 57. Jay P. Pederson, Thomson Gale. Detroit, Michigan: St. James Press. 2004. ISBN 978-1-55862-698-0. OCLC 769044990. Archived from the original on 2020-02-24 – via Funding Universe.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ Knight, Philip H. (2018). Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike. London: Simon & Schuster. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-4711-4672-5. OCLC 1048249796.
  8. ^ Velikova, Elena (2021-01-25). "Wisdom from Nike: how Jeff Johnson sold Nike's first shoes". Medium. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  9. ^ Brant, John (2019-03-05). "After WWII He Changed His Name and Sold Bootleg Beer. Then He Founded Asics". Runner's World. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  10. ^ a b Shoya Okinaga (1 April 2018). "Made-in-Japan footwear puts spring in Asics' step". Nikkei.com. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  11. ^ Paul Baron (1 September 2009). "Onitsuka Tiger turns 60, releases "Made of Japan" book". Tokyoartbeat.com. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  12. ^ Verry, Peter (20 November 2015). "Bait x Onitsuka Tiger Expands Bruce Lee Collab With Second Shoe". Footwear News. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
  13. ^ "Celebrities are Wearing Onitsuka Tiger's Sneakers This Summer". Men's Journal. Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  14. ^ https://www.onitsukatiger.com/us/en-us/end-of-sale
  15. ^ Kelly Wetherille (28 January 2015). "Asics Relaunching Asics Tiger Brand". Women's Wear Daily. Retrieved 22 November 2018.
  16. ^ Strasser, J. B. (1991). Swoosh: The Unauthorized Story of Nike, and the Men Who Played There. Laurie Becklund (1st ed.). San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 59–67. ISBN 0-15-187430-1. OCLC 24009263.
  17. ^ Guyot, Olivier (July 19, 2019). "Onitsuka Tiger untethers from Asics, embraces premium positioning". Fashion Network. Translated by Nicola Mira. Retrieved 2023-04-17.

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