Japan’s Road to Recovery

Fishing tackle companies the world over are slowly getting to grips with a new reality. A global pandemic was simply not in anyone’s equations when drawing up plans for 2020, but here we find ourselves in the midst of one. No matter the size or reputation of your company, everyone has had to adjust their expectations and plans for the present and the future. It would be easy to be pessimistic, perhaps even totally natural to be. But there are countries and businesses out there rising to meet the challenges and actually enjoying growth – stories which we can all take heart from. Some fine examples can be seen in one of fishing tackle’s spiritual homes: Japan. The country looked to be facing disaster back in mid-April with rising infection rates and deaths due to COVID-19, but thanks to the determination, co-operation and hope of the Japanese people, it’s making a miraculous recovery with fishing at the very forefront. 

“In early April the Japanese government issued an emergency declaration targeting a region with a large population, this region was then expanded nationwide, and people were requested to stay at home,” said Kazuhito Omura, President of rod guides and accessories expert Fuji.

“As a result, sales in the fishing industry were very affected. Especially in Japan, the loss of the ‘Golden Week’ (a holiday season from the end of April to the beginning of May) due to the stay-at-home period was significant – it’s the largest sales period for the fishing tackle industry, so was a big opportunity lost.”

As Japan began to get the virus under control, its people were allowed more freedom to move (they never actually had a formal lockdown), but under the condition that they avoid what the Government calls the ‘Three C’s’: closed places, crowded places and close distance to others. These relatively trusting restrictions turned out to be the catalyst the fishing tackle industry desperately needed, as Kazuhito Omura explained: “During this period, there was a growing desire to take in the sun as much as possible and take part in healthy outdoor activities. Therefore, many beginners and families were going out fishing nearby. Despite loosing a significant period of sales, it is also true that some positive movements have happened. We found that rod building as an indoor fishing activity also saw a big increase in demand. April is the season for new things and a good opportunity to organise in Japan, so repair of rods and building of rods became more popular.”

This recovery has also been well documented by another Japanese giant, Daiwa. Its Sales Department Manager, Motohiko Obayashi, said: “[The fishing tackle industry in Japan is] recovering quicker than we anticipated, especially in local big cities rather than the Tokyo area. Relatively low-priced rods and reels plus consumable items are in high demand, probably because families have joined our sport because as it’s a safe outdoor activity. Fishing is an ideal activity to avoid the ‘Three Cs’, as many of us in the industry say.”

It’s not just the low end of the market that is seeing a kick-up trend, according to Motohiko. A Government pay out of 100,000 Yen (US$ 930) to every citizen in May became a trigger for those who are paid a regular salary to indulge themselves in bigger purchases, boosting fishing tackle sales at the higher end of the price spectrum too. Because there was no formal lockdown, many people were still able to work, so this cash lump sum helped fuel these larger purchases. It’s estimated that the rods, reels and poles market segment in Japan will grow to an impressive $394 million during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

It’s one thing having a sales surge due to bizarre and completely unexpected global events, but what of the future? That is something being viewed with cautious optimism by those in the Japanese trade.

“In life with COVID-19, products and services friendly to beginners and families might be more demanded than before,” continued Daiwa’s Motohiko Obayashi.

“While more compact products will be favoured by consumers and online retailers to save carriage, products that match local fishing styles and methods and require education by shopkeepers may also be more in demand by people fishing locally. I believe the value of fishing through which you can experience many ‘genuine’ things will become more precious and hopefully more demanded by people. In the long run, Daiwa will keep assisting anglers, beginners or experienced, to have more ‘feel alive’ moments!”

As those in the industry, we are already well aware of the benefits of fishing to your wellbeing, your health and management of the environment. This is something that should be impressed upon those new to fishing who have been attracted to it during these unusual circumstances. Fuji’s Kazuhito Omura added: “Fishing is constantly changing due to technologies and angler preferences. The materials are changing, the way of fishing is changing, the anglers are changing, and the pleasure of fishing that we seek while interacting with nature is changing. But the desire of human beings to be more natural is the same, I think. In fact, even if COVID-19 continues for some time, the fact that outdoor activities and the interest in fishing are not diminishing but increasing may indicate the brightness of our future. I believe that fishing, where you can enjoy nature with family and friends, will become even more important. Looking at countries around the world, for example, fishing is encouraged in the US state of Florida, and similar movements occur in Australia. Not only the support from within our industry, but also the recognition and support obtained from outside of the industry, such as national governments, local governments, or tourism industries, is an indicator for the bright future of our industry.”