Yusuke Hanai

Sep 07, 2018Words By Luis Angel CancelPhotos By Yoshiki Suzuki

If the late John Berger taught us anything, it's that the best definition of art is "a way of seeing." That's why we created the Huckberry Artist Series — a partnership with some of our favorite creatives, a peek into their process, and a chance to see the world through their eyes. And to bring just a little more of their world into yours, we teamed up to create a limited run of merch. This time there's even a surfboard.


Yusuke Hanai x Huckberry

An exclusive collaboration

Discover Yusuke's limited edition collection made just for Huckberry

In Japan, people think my art looks American. In the US, people think my work looks very Japanese.


Yusuke Hanai


The cultural dialogue between the US and Japan over the past few decades is something like a complicated game of volleyball. Often, things that originate in the US—but have become overlooked or under-appreciated—get methodically dissected and reconstructed by a Japanese subculture, then bounced back to the states where they’re “rediscovered.” In the words of Sarah Kovner, Japanese History instructor at the University of Florida, “What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery.” You can see this drive toward mastery in Japan’s subversive repurposing of Ivy League preppy fashion, the craft cocktail and bourbon boom, the resurgence of workwear and selvage denim. Today, Grateful Dead tees are draped on the broad shoulders of Hollywood A-listers and surfing is just as common among Fortune 500 CEOs as it is among beach bums that reject consumerism. But it wasn’t long ago that these cultural touchstones were only cherished by those on the distant shores of the mainstream. As a teenager, Yusuke Hanai was hooked by the tones Jerry Garcia coaxed out of his Tiger guitar then pulled down a rabbit hole of inspiration by the Grateful Dead’s legendary album cover illustrator Rick Griffin. Yusuke began seeking Griffin’s work wherever he could get a glimpse of it — old surf movies, magazines, vintage concert posters. Griffin’s style began to inform a young Yusuke’s own illustrations and drawings, kicking an already developing artistic practice into high gear. A few years later, Yusuke’s steady diet of surfing, Psychedelic Rock, and the work Lost Generation writers like Kerouac would propel him to San Francisco to study at the Academy of Art. These days, Yusuke’s work filters those Californian influences through his own unique perspective across a wide range of projects that touch everything from murals to collectible figurines to a collaboration with Vans. Ahead of our own collaboration with Yusuke, we caught up with him via email from his studio in Shōnan, Japan for a rapid-fire Q&A.

On surfing in his hometown…

My go-to spot is Kamakura, one of the classic surf spots in Japan.  

On his preferred media…

Pen and ink, gouache, acrylic, canvas

On his early influences...

As a teenager, I was really digging America’s counterculture movements. Beatniks, rock ’n’ roll, hippies, surfing. I sought out movies like Morning of the Earth and Pacific Vibration. Then I found Rick Griffin’s work in old surf magazines. I searched for it everywhere I could. Rock posters, album art. I wanted to draw just like him but I was interested in the personalities of characters. I wanted to explore what they might be like when they’re not surfing. A lot of surfers are weirdos, unique, a little crazy. I wanna capture that stuff.

On cultural perceptions...

In Japan, people think my art looks American. In the US, people think my work looks very Japanese.

On studying art in San Francisco…

I was attracted to the weirdos in San Francisco. For the first time, I was completely surrounded by artists, hippies, punks, the LGBT community, people of all nationalities and all walks of life. There was a freedom there that lured me. But I’ve heard there’s a lot of tech workers in SF now. Rents have skyrocketed and artsy people are struggling to stick around. 

On music in the studio…

While I’m working, my iTunes is shuffling — Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Mattson 2, Ray Barbee

On his focus on characters…

Eventually, I realized I like drawing people. Especially people doing stupid things. There are so many crazy, interesting, one-of-a-kind people in this world. It’s a constant source of inspiration to me. Everyone’s weird. That’s how I landed on the title for my book, Ordinary People.  

On upcoming projects…

After this surfboard and merch collaboration with you guys at Huckberry, I have a collab with Vans dropping and I couldn’t be more stoked about it all. 

On what he’d do with an unlimited budget…

Surf every day.


Yusuke’s Social Hangouts

Yusukeby the numbers

  • 20yearsillustrating professionally
  • 3surfsessions per week
  • 0.5cupscoffee per day

Yusuke’sfavorite things

  • "Don't lose your sense of humor, no matter the circumstances. That's what I hope to express with my work."
  • Lately, Yusuke's taken on more large-scale works like mural commissions and street art
  • "7:00 am wake up. 9:00 am take my daughter kindergarten. 9:30 start work. If there’s a swell, I take a 10:00 am surf break."

Yusuke Hanai x Huckberry

An exclusive collaboration

Discover Yusuke's limited edition collection made just for Huckberry