Recently I went to Aki Sakamoto’s shop, Hog Killers in Hawaiian Gardens, Ca., to sit down for a quick interview and shoot some photos.
We first met at a photography show I did a few years ago in the back room of a barbershop in Long Beach, Ca. I kept up on what he was doing mostly from editorial coverage Aki would get from working at West Coast Choppers and later on at Hog Killers.
He had built a bike that really caught my eye and I wanted to do a photo shoot of it. By the time I got around to asking him about it he took the bike to Japan for a show and while it was there, it ended up getting sold. So instead of shooting that bike I was able to shoot a Shovelhead that he built for another customer that was still at his shop waiting for pick up. So not wasting anymore time, I headed over there and we talked about growing up in Japan and what motivated him to come to the States. It is an interesting story of determination and survival in an industry flooded with tons of talented builders.
JAC: Where were you born and raised?
Aki: I was born in Fukuoka City, Japan. I moved to the U.S. when I was 21 back in 1995. I came to the U.S. because I wanted to go to Sturgis, South Dakota. Since I was going to be here I wanted to stay longer than just a week. I wanted to come here as a student and be able to get a visa and hopefully I could stay for at least 6 months.
I found a school to attend. I was looking at a map and seeing where South Dakota was. The closet school was in Utah. I was just looking at the map and having a Japanese map in my mind I thought, “Oh that is pretty close. Maybe like an hour drive or something.” So I went to Utah as a student and realized that South Dakota was not even close to Utah! Yeah, that’s how I came here. I didn’t even make it to Sturgis that year either. My car broke down on the way! I had a 77’ Nova that I bought for $500 bucks. I thought I could go to Sturgis, but it was much further than I thought. My car just broke down. I had to hitch hike back home. That was fun.
JAC: What was your first motorcycle you owned?
Aki: It was a 400 Kawasaki back in Japan. My dad was into motorcycles. I think he was riding a Honda though. I don’t think he ever had a Harley. I don’t know how I got into Harley’s, but I always liked motorcycles. That’s all we did back then. 12-13 years old, we would just go. That’s all we did as kids. Once you ride a 50cc you want to go bigger and bigger.
Part 2 of the interview and photos tomorrow.