Koyo Sangyo is founded in Kobe, Japan.

Starting out as a manufacturer of rubber and textile goods, the company soon branches out, producing sports shoes for Japan’s domestic market under the name Koyo Bear.

Japanese basketball shoe advertisement by Koyo Bear
Japanese table tennis legend Ichiro Ogimura


Koyo Bear joins forces with Japanese 12× Table Tennis World Champion and renowned ping pong sportswear and equipment pioneer Ichiro Ogimura. Together, they develop the world’s first purpose-built sports shoe made specifically for professional table tennis players, the Koyo Bear Sharpman.

Soon, the Sharpman becomes synonymous with Japan’s top players.

Japanese vintage advertisement from the 1970s by Koyo Bear - displaying the Koyo Bear Sharpman table tennis shoe


Through Ogimura’s endorsement and the continued success of Japanese players on the international stage, Koyo Bear footwear gains more and more momentum outside of Japan.

By the late 1960s, Koyo Bear is the leading footwear brand in table tennis, worn by players from all over the world.

Cover of Japanese table tennis magazine Table Tennis Report from 1968. Japanese player wearing the Koyo Bear Sharpman shoe.
Shigeo Itō congratulating world champion Stellan Bengtsson in 1971 at the award ceremony of the the table tennis world championships in Nagoya, Japan.


At the 31st Table Tennis World Championships in Nagoya, Japan, Stellan Bengtsson becomes the first non-Asian player in almost 20 years and the first Swede ever to win a World Championship title.

Wearing his Koyo Bear Sharpman, the student of Ogimura beats the reigning world champion, Japan’s Shigeo Itō, in the men's singles finals.

The spotlight, however, fell on another Sharpman wearer: U.S. national team player Glenn Cowan.

After missing the U.S. team’s bus, Cowan instead hitched a ride with the Chinese national team. Despite the political animosity between the two nations at the time, Cowan’s flamboyant personality won the Chinese team over.

This instance kickstarted what would be known as "Ping Pong Diplomacy" and culminated with the historic meeting between President Nixon and Chairman Mao and the eventual opening up of China to the world.

American table tennis player Glenn Cowan visiting China in 1971 during the Ping Pong Diplomacy days
The incident that kickstarted the Ping Pong Diplomacy: American table tennis national team player Glenn Cowan making friends with the Chinese player Zhuang Zedong at the 1971 Table Tennis World Championships in Nagoya, Japan.


Koyo Bear expands its product lines, releasing high quality footwear for a wide range of sports.

Japanese basketball players wearing Koyo Bear sports shoes
Japanese volleyball players wearing Koyo Bear sports shoes

Their sports shoes become market leaders in Japan in many disciplines, worn by amateurs and professionals alike.

Their Volleyball shoe, Revo 6, is officially endorsed by the Japanese Volleyball Association and becomes a favorite among the leading Volleyball players in Japan.

Also, in the basketball sport, the Koyo Bear Sokko becomes the first choice of many top players.

The Koyo Bear Laser basketball shoe from 1983


Koyo Bear introduces a new generation of “Made in Japan” sports shoes.

The successor of Koyo Bear’s legendary Sharpman is released: the Sharpman Nimble.

In basketball, Koyo Bear continues to lead the way with their new basketball shoe line: Laser


In the mid-1980s, the Japanese rubber industry enters a dramatic downturn. With the appreciation of the Japanese Yen, high labor costs, and the relocation of many companies to low-cost countries, the situation becomes unsustainably competitive for Japanese rubber manufacturers like Koyo Sangyo. 1989 sees the dissolution of Koyo Sangyo. The Koyo Bear brand becomes dormant.

Vintage shoe boxes by the Japanese sports shoe brand Koyo Bear
Japanese table tennis legend Ichiro Ogimura


A quarter century later, a group of enthusiasts, retracing the steps of Ichiro Ogimura, rediscover the brand in the basement of Ogimura’s ping pong club in Tokyo.

They embark on a mission to bring Koyo Bear back to the world.