Fishing tackle is a global business, but that doesn’t mean that we all go about that business in the exact same way. That got me thinking – what can we learn from examining how fishing tackle retailers around the world do their thing? There seemed no better place to answer this question than the only other country outside of the United States I’ve visited that made my jaw drop and my wallet itch when I walked around the aisles of its fishing stores – Japan.
In many ways, Japan is the homeland of fishing tackle. Being the birthplace of Daiwa and Shimano has to count for something, right? It is also a hugely diverse country in terms of fishing disciplines, and subsequently, the way it sells tackle to anglers.
My first taste of Japanese tackle retail came in the Shizuoka branch of retail chain Ishiguro, not far from the foothills of the imperious and iconic Mount Fuji. Its bright blue shop frontage is instantly recognizable to Japanese anglers of all disciplines as the shop sells a wide range of freshwater and saltwater gear. This particular branch was fairly large, which is unusual in Japan because it’s a small nation geographically with a very dense population, and its shops don’t usually have big units. In fact, most of the country’s independent retailers—and there are literally thousands of those— take small units in the most unlikely of places. The 7th floor of a shopping mall, a deserted looking back-street alley, shopping precincts inside subway stations – just about anywhere where there is room to hold stock.
This Ishiguro is located in a pretty dense urban area, but it does at least have its own purpose-built unit and looks more like the kind of thing you might find in the USA. Upon entering you can see that the Japanese mindset of making every inch of floorspace count inside a store is not lost, even in a more luxuriously spacious store like this one. Tackle climbs every wall, shelf and surface and shouts for your attention in chaotic displays often accompanied with hand-written signage alerting you to deals or special offers. The aisles are crammed, the choices in each product category are huge and the welcome by staff is always warm. Japanese retail staff like to welcome you and help wherever possible and many retailers run fishing clubs, or get-togethers to help make it a more social thing. You will also nearly always find some sort of initiative being promoted to attract young anglers – whether that’s deals on starter kits, or taster sessions with staff from the shop – Japan fully shoulders the responsibility of ensuring sustainable growth in the fishing market.
To the untrained eye you might find the presentation of products in a store like this a little messy or not quite as polished as in the USA – but stores like this are all about substance over style. Whatever your ability, these stores will have something for you and if not, they’ll recommend another store (even if it’s a competitor) where you might be able to get what you need – the Japanese fishing industry has a real sense of togetherness.
The level of customer service in Japan really is fantastic – the staff treat you incredibly well and their first concern is how they can help you, not necessarily how they can grab your Yen.
The growth of chains like this has accelerated in the last few decades following some mainstream supermarkets trying and failing to successfully sell fishing tackle, leaving the door open for specialist retailers – both independent and chain – to thrive.
Other prevalent retail chains in Japan include Johsuya and Casting, which interestingly is owned and run by World Sports Co – a company subsequently owned by Globeride Inc, owner of none other than Daiwa. I have visited a couple of these stores, but the one in Saitama really stands out. Inside, it is much more spacious than any other Japanese store I have visited and pays much more attention to presentation, with stylish point-of-display and bright and spacious aisles. It is more like a general outdoors store in the United States.
Another thing that is quite drastically different about Japanese stores compared to other places is their opening hours. It’s not uncommon for stores to be open 12 hours on a weekday and even longer at the weekend. Fishing in Japan (almost) never sleeps.
Perhaps one last major difference between Japan and the USA is the standard that its anglers expect. Japan’s domestic fishing market is super competitive and its tastes in terms of quality are very, very high. This means that Japanese anglers are not afraid to spend money, and fishing tackle here is expensive. There are of course some low-end products, but shops that only stock those will likely never thrive. I remember buying a couple of packets of soft lures and a Daiwa jacket in one store I visited and not getting much change from $150. But, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
Vital statistics on the Japanese tackle market
- Estimated number of anglers: 15 million
- Estimated number of tackle shops: 4,000
- Estimated number of wholesalers: 100
- Estimated number of manufacturers: 150
- Estimated value of fishing to Japan’s economy: $6 billion