mushi (insect) hunting,
a popular father and son activity
According to a survey on recreation in Japan, 76 percent of the people interviewed said they liked to spend their free time traveling around Japan. Other activities that ranked high were driving, followed by overseas trips, picnics, hiking, and cultural activities such as movies and concerts. According to a 2010 Japan Post Insurance survey 61.4 percent of health-concious Japanese cited walking as they activity they like to do to stay healthy.

In another survey, 29 percent of those asked said they very often spend their leisure time in a natural places such as a park or countryside (compared to 47 percent in the United States) and 27 percent said they sometimes spend time in natural places. In a survey in 2009, three fourths of Japanese adults said they don't get enough exercise. [Source: Environics International]

The ancient Japanese tradition of yu-suzumi, or "enjoying the evening cool." Typical yu-suzumi pastimes include boat rides, walks along the waterside, and watching fireworks. Running up long series of stairs often the ones leading to Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines is a common training method in Japan.

Modern forms of recreation are displacing traditional Japanese art forms. According to a 1997 government White Paper on Leisure, twice as many women are interested in personal computers than the tea ceremony and three times more would rather go bowling than engage in traditional flower arranging. In 2009, retailers noticed that consumers were becoming more interested in purchases that related to a hobby or provided a skill. Particularly popular were cooking classes, golf lessons and equipment and gardening products.

The "Billy's Boot camp" videos, featuring quick, concentrated fitness exercises, were a big hit were a major hit in Japan in 2007. This was thanks largely to a television marketing campaign by Oak Lawn Marketing Inc. the company's president, Harry Hill told the Yomiuri Shimbun: "That product was such a big hit that it became a social phenomenon, but its greatest popularity lasted only a year. Sales of "Billy's Boot camp" were about 20 billion yen and accounted for about half of our company's sales in 2007. But in 2008, the sales hit 100 million yen.I think our company's fate would have been sealed at that time if we did not have other products with trustworthy brand images. The "lifespan" of each of our products is short, about six months to a year. So brand image is important." [Source: Masakazu Kobayashi and Toru Takahashi, Yomiuri Shimbun, November 2011]

Websites and Resources


Good Websites and Sources: Nature Recreation in Japan ; Vanessa's Homepage on Recreation in Japan ; Academic Paper from the 1980s on Rcreation in Japan ; Statistical Handbook of Japan Leisure Activities Section ; 2010 Edition ; News Fitness Japan, an ex-pat site ;

Fishing Fishing Japan Fishing Japan ;Fishing Japan top sites Fishing Japan top sites; Ayu Fishing ; Fly Fishing in Japan ; Lure Fishing in Japan Illustrated ; Pro Shop Otsuka Japan Bass Fishing ; Saltwater Fishing in Okinawa Charters and Tours ;

Beaches: Good list of Beaches 100 Best Beaches in Japan ; 7 Good Beaches Traveljab blog ; Surfing: Websites: Japan Surf Japan Surf ; Global Surfer Report on Japan Global Surfer ; Tokyo Area Surfing ;

Air Sports Saga International Ballon Festival Saga Balloon Festival ; Paragliding in Japan ; Japan Hang and Paragliding AssociationJapan Hang and Paragliding Association ; River Sports Rivers and Creeks in Japan ; Outdoor Japan Outdoor Japan ; Canyons If you google "Kayaking Japan" a lot of different operators in different parts of Japan turn up.

Skiing in Japan Book: “Ski Japan-The Complete Guide to Japanese Ski Resorts” by T.R. Reid (Kodansha International, 1994). Ski Websites: Ski Japan Guide with information on 600 ski resorts, trail maps for 150 resorts and weather conditions and snow reports: Snow Japan Ski Ski ; Deep Powder Tours Deep Powder Tours Go Ski ; Niseko Company Hokkaido Resorts ;

Ambitious Tokyo Amusements that Closed Wild Blue Yokohama on Aaron's World Lalasport Ski Dome (closed in 2002) on Wikipedia Wikipedia

History of Recreation in Japan

Interest in leisure activities rose in Japan in the late 1950s. As the nation's economy recovered in the postwar years, "leisure" became a buzzword. Recreational facilities, such as hot-spring resorts, were developed in areas throughout Japan. In the 1960s, as Japan entered an extended period of high economic growth, more and more people began using automobiles, while at the same time there was an expansion of the transportation infrastructure, including expressways and Shinkansen train lines. The outcome was an increase in group tours and family trips by people using their own cars. Moreover, the number of Japanese visiting foreign destinations rose as various overseas travel restrictions were lifted. During this time the number of amusement parks as well as sporting facilities like bowling alleys and golf courses rapidly rose, increasing the scale of leisure activities and making them available to more people. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

"In the 1970s, leisure activities that were inexpensive, conveniently located, and not time-consuming were popular, such as playing sports, visiting game arcades, or going to cultural centers. The year 1983, which saw the marketplace debut of the Family Computer video game console, marked the beginning of the development of a wide range of video game consoles. That same year Tokyo Disneyland opened its doors, setting off a wave of similar theme parks opening throughout the country.

"With Japan's bubble economy of the late 1980s, the number of Japanese traveling to overseas resorts shot up quickly. After the collapse of the bubble economy at the start of the 1990s, more people spent their free time on hobbies, including various types of lessons. Starting around 2000, there has been a diversification of the ways Japanese people are spending their free time, with many choosing to enjoy activities that suit their own special sensibilities and tastes.

Family-Oriented Leisure Activities in Japan

During the period of high economic growth, Japanese workers led career-centered lives, but in recent years there is a tendency for people to spend free time with their family members, and increasingly working adults are dedicating their days off to family activities. In Japan there are consecutive vacation days during the New Year holiday, Golden Week (from late April to early May), and Obon (mid- August), and many people use those times to take trips with their families. There are also many facilities located throughout Japan that families can enjoy, such as zoos, aquariums, and museums, and these locations are crowded with family groups on weekends and holidays. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

"More and more families are going camping or climbing mountains together, reflecting an increased interest in outdoor activities. With the increased environmental awareness in Japan, those living in urban areas are participating with their children in 'eco tourism' to experience the culture and natural settings of local areas and 'green tourism' to experience agriculture in rural areas.

"In the home, some parents teach their children traditional Japanese games such as “shogi “(a chess-like game) and “go”. Families enjoy passing the time playing these games. Large-scale suburban shopping centers with movie theaters and other attractions have increased in number, so more families do their weekend shopping there. Meanwhile, lots of Japanese people have become interested in gardening or home carpentry as a way of better enjoying their daily lives. And more and more people are interested in cooking and baking cakes or interior design.

Leisure Activities for Children, Youth, Teenagers

Children in Japan spend their free time after school, on weekends, or during summer vacation in a variety of ways. After school, in addition to playing at home or at a friend's house, children play in parks or playgrounds, or visit local libraries and children's centers. Children when alone at home often enjoy a variety of hobbies, such as playing video games and watching TV, reading books and “manga”, engaging in painting or crafts, and enjoying piano or guitar. Quite a few children are also spending their free time at "cram schools" or taking swimming and piano lessons. And once students enter junior high school, they begin to spend more time involved in extracurricular school activities such as playing sports. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

"There are also community activities for children, such as sports clubs that meet on weekends to play baseball, soccer, or volleyball, as well as neighborhood children s associations (“kodomokai”). Schools also open their athletic fields to the public on weekends so that parents and their children can play there. During summer vacation, there are popular travel opportunities for children such as camps where children spend time away from their parents. Japan also has an after-school daycare system for elementary school children of parents who both work. At these centers students can have snacks, play with their friends, and do homework during the time between the end of school and heading back home.

In this day and age when lifestyles are becoming ever more diverse, young people have a wide variety of pastimes, and there is no single trend for spending leisure time. However, many young people are very interested in fashion and so like to spend their days-off shopping. Karaoke is also a popular free-time activity. People enjoy karaoke not only with friends but also with colleagues from work or family members. There are also many who are investing in their own future by learning a foreign language or studying to obtain a qualification. There has been an increase in "theme park" style hot-spring resorts located in suburban areas, and some young people visit such attractions on their days off. Fewer young people are taking trips with their coworkers, increasingly preferring instead to travel with friends not related to work or family members or even travel by themselves. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Recreational Swimming in Japan

crowded beach in Okinawa
Public swimming pools in Japan can be very crowded. They generally don't have deep ends or diving boards and no diving is allowed from the sides of the pool. Every hour or two the pool is emptied, with most everyone standing on the deck doing stretching exercises to piano music.

Nearly every school in Japan has an outdoor swimming pool. In elementary school swimming lessons are part of the school year curriculum and are offered free during the summer. The goals is teach swimming to kids so they can enjoy the sport and feel safe around water.

In June when the swimming lessons at school start parents are given detailed handouts of what is expected of them and their children. Students must wear regulations swim suits and caps with their name, grade and class written on them. Parents are supposed to check their child's temperature every day and mark it on a card that says their child is healthy enough to swim that day. Parents put their hanko (chop) on the card. If a child does not have the card he or she can not swim that day.

deserted beach in the Izu Islands
Students change into their swim suits at school, with girls in one classroom and boys in another. They carefully stretch and shower, and sometimes walk through a hip-deep pool of disinfectant and finally enter the pool about 60 at a time. The kids regular classroom teacher dons a bathing suit and teaches the classes. The students are taught different skills and proceed up a ladder of 15 ranks.

Students in many places are required to swim a certain distance such as 100 meters, 200 meters or 400 meters. If they can't they have to attend a special summer training program.

Some nice beach are just a small inlet or peninsula away from large industrial zones, nuclear power plants or thermal power plants. Many beaches are artificial with sand dredged and brought in by special ships.

Competitive Swimming, Olympic Sports

Swimming from Japan to Taiwan

September 2011, a team of six Japanese swimmers that swam in turns of 30 minutes, swam from one of the southernmost islands of Japan to Taiwan. Kyodo reported: A Japanese team of six swimmers arrived in the Taiwanese town of Su-ao after completing a 110-km relay from Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture to express gratitude for donations sent to victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. After swimming for about 50 hours, the team, led by Kazuya Suzuki, a 31-year-old company employee who once won the national life-saving championship, was welcomed by 100 Taiwanese swimmers who swam out from the town to greet them."

Although the six had planned to swim along the ocean currents toward Su-ao, they altered course to take the shortest route because of Typhoon Roke's off Okinawa. The team was accompanied by a ship carrying a 10-member support crew, including a doctor."We want to communicate our gratitude and enhance ties between Japan and Taiwan," Suzuki told reporters before his departure. He was the first to propose the goodwill relay project. The Taiwanese people sent a total of 6.7 billion New Taiwan dollars, or ¥17 billion, in donations to those Japanese afflicted by the disasters.

Marathon Running in Japan

Marathon running is very popular in Japan, with marathons around the country often reaching their quotas just days or even hours after opening their doors to receiving applications. The 2011 Tokyo Marathon received 336,000 applications for 36,000 entries. Among those allowed to run in 2011 was Chilean miner Edison Pena, one of the 33 miners rescued in October 2010.

Ken Marantz wrote in the Daily Yomiuri, "Japan's passion for the marathon is no secret and certainly justified. In national polls of favorite sports, it is regarded as a separate entity from athletics and, even so, often ranks among the highest." Toshihiko Seko, the holder of the Japan record with 10 career marathon wins, told the Daily Yomiuri, "When I was young, I thought the marathon was just a long race. As I accumulated experience, I realized the marathon is a profound event. I am happy and privileged to have run this race." [Source: Ken Marantz, Daily Yomiuri, may

The 2011 Tokyo Marathon was won by a Kenyan. Finishing in third was Yuki Kawauchi, who pulled off the feat and qualified for the World Championshiop marathon even though he is not a professional runner and has no corporate sponsorship but rather is a government office worker who trains in his spare time.

In January 2011, 61-year-old comedian Kampei Hazama completed his run-and-sail "Earth Marathon" around the world, finishing in Osaka Castle Park, two years after starting. The 41,000-kilometer feat took him through 18 countries and was interrupted for treatment for prostrate cancer. He started the trip by running from Osaka to the Tokyo area, then sailed to the United States and ran across North America. He then traversed the Atlantic Ocean in a sailboat and jogged across Europe and Asia . He is the first known person to have completed such a trip.

Cyclist-Jogger Traffic Jam in Park at Imperial Palace

Naotaka Kobayashi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: "Can increasing numbers of joggers and bicycle riders coexist around the Imperial Palace? Because of numerous complaints of trouble involving runners and bicycles on the crowded sidewalks and roads, the Chiyoda Ward Office held the first meeting of a panel to discuss the issue. Participants including representatives of runners and those in charge of road maintenance discussed ways to improve runners' manners and road conditions. [Source: Naotaka Kobayashi , Yomiuri Shimbun, December 27, 2011]

The ward office aims to make new rules aimed at winning the cooperation of all three groups--runners, bicycle riders and pedestrians. At the panel's first meeting 20 members including a runner, a representative of a bicycle association and a local police officer voiced their respective opinions based on their positions. "Though widening the roads would be best, it would be difficult. Runners need to be careful of one another," said Mari Tanigawa, who finished first in the 1991 Tokyo International Women's Marathon. She spoke as a coach for runners.

An official in charge of the issue from the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry explained: "Partly because of consideration for scenery, we can't remove planted zones to widen the sidewalks." An operator of a facility to assist runners said, "Though pedestrians have bad manners, a lot of the trouble is between runners and bicycle riders."

The ward office set up the panel due a growing sense of urgency brought on by a rise in the number of runners who jog on the roads around the Imperial Palace. Research by the ward office in 2009 showed that about 4,500 people ran on the course between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. each weekday. The number has increased due to a recent boom in healthy activities, and rose even further as more commuters began riding bicycles after the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Facilities where runners can use showers and locker rooms have sprung up to cater to company employees who run around the palace after work. Even tourists staying in central Tokyo hotels now enjoy jogging around the periphery of the palace grounds in increasing numbers.Areas around the Imperial Palace also include walking trails that attract many groups of visitors.

The ward office has received complaints from pedestrians about feeling terrified by runners and bicycles zipping past at high speeds or being bothered by groups of runners coming at them while occupying the entire width of the path. The ward office has posted signs calling on runners to observe good manners in places where frequent trouble had been reported. The ward office will soon begin hearings on topics such as the times when the area is the most crowded, and where and how often runners run in the street.

The running course is a loop of about five kilometers of sidewalks along roads around the Imperial Palace. Most of the roads are part of Uchibori-dori avenue, but different sections are under the jurisdiction of different authorities--the central government, the Tokyo metropolitan government and the Chiyoda Ward Office.

Surfing, Scuba, Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan

Surfing is popular in Japan. Some surfing beaches are on one side of a highway with ugly concrete highrises on the other. Surfing is also a fashion with many surfers seeming more interested in accessories than the sport. The same can said about skateboarding, where dressing the part oftem has precedence over skateboarding ability.

There are around 600,000 certified scuba divers in Japan. The fatality rate among scuba divers is failry high in Japan. A total of 182 divers died between 1999 and 2007. In one case two divers died on a single dive off the Amami islands in Kagoshima Prefecture after becoming separated from their group. The scuba instructor it turned out never held a diver's license, let along a diving instructor's license, He was sentenced to 16 months in jail for professional negligence.

Skiing in Niigata Prefecture peaked in 1992 with 15.92 million skiers visiting the prefecture. In 2009 only 4.93 million skiers visited the prefecture.

These days ski resorts and onsens in Niigata and Yamagata and other prefectures in northern Japan that have experienced sharp declines in the number of Japanese visitors are trying to attract more skiers and bathers from Asia, namely Taiwan, China and South Korea.

In the mid-1990s, snowboarding caught on with Japanese youth in a big way. Snowboarders became a fixture of television commercials, stores carried a dozen or so specialty snowboarding magazines, and number of snowboarders jumped from 200,000 in 1992 to 800,000 in 1996 to 5.4 million in 2000 and has remained steady for several years, before dropping off.

Japan now accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the $800 million annual global snowboarding industry. A typical Japanese snowboarders not only dishes out $500 for a snowboard he or she also spends up to $1,000 on the prerequisite snowboarder outfit: baggy pants, thick-soled sneakers, baseball caps, and formless windbreakers.

Indoor ski slopes usually have a slope for snowboarders but, ironically, snowboarding is banned on the slopes where the snowboarding competition at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano took place.

Indoor Surfing in Japan

Japan is famous for it atrium-covered indoor beaches and ski resorts. Even though the real mountains and the real ocean are only minutes away, many parents prefer to take their children to indoor ski slopes and indoor pools with machine- generated waves because they consider the man-made facilities to be safer.

Seagaia Resort, near Miyazaki on Kyushu, was billed as the world's largest indoor water recreation center. One hundred meters wide, 300 meters long and 38 meters high, it featured a huge 10,000-person wave pool, artificial beach made of crushed Chinese marble, bikini clad girls, a man-made volcano that erupted every 15 minutes, and a variety of slides, shops and snack bars. Ironically the real ocean was only a few minutes away.

Waves up eight feet high were generated by machine with 40 computer-controlled vacuum chambers. It contained a convention hall, water complex, 99 holes of golf and four hotel, including one with 45 floors and 753 rooms. Underneath the blue sky painted onto the complex's ceiling (which slides open in nice weather and was the world's largest retractable ceiling) are man-made clouds, which slowly drift by.

Seagaia resort was conceived in 1988, during the height of the Bubble Economy, and built at a cost of $2 billion, Opened in 1994, it attracts about 2½ million visitors a year and was Japan's fifth largest theme park after Tokyo Disneyland, Universal Studios Japan, DisneySea and Huis Ten Bosch.

In 2001, Seagaia resort filed for bankruptcy. It expected to show a profit in its first year based on the assumption it would attract 5.5 million visitors. It only attracted 2.7 million that year and 3.86 million the next year, which was not enough to make it profitable. By 1999, it owed more than $1.2 billion and ut bank refused to lend it any more money.

Indoor Skiing in Japan

Lalasport Ski Dome (Unabashi, train ride near Tokyo) was the world's largest indoor ski slop. Enclosed inside a building that looked like a "cross between a skyscraper and an airplane hanger," was a man-made slope that is 1,344 feet high and 275 feet wide and used about as much energy per day as the Empire State Building. Every morning before the customers arrived about a centimeter of ultra-fine snow particles, a tenth of the size of an average snowflake, descended from the sky blue ceiling. It closed in early 2000s.

"The ski hill," writes T.R. Reid in the Washington Post, "is one broad slope about as wide as football field is long with high speed four-person chairlifts on either side. Once at the top you have to make a choice. At the top right (looking down), the slope is steep enough to be rated "advanced." In the center and the left end of the hill, the slope decreases considerably. The "advanced slope is steep enough and snowy enough to develop actual moguls, and we found the run fairly interesting for a half hour or so."

The $360 million Ski Dome was outfit with thick foam cushions on the walls to protect skiers from injury and had a jump where skiers and snowboarders tried to perform elaborate stunts. At the bottom of the slope was a ski lodge where skiers could enjoy a cup of cappuccino, hot chocolate or instant ramen, and luxurious locker rooms. From the outside the indoor ski slope looked like a 25-story metal box. It boasted the world's largest refrigeration bill.

The chair lifts whisked skier and snowboarders to the top of the slope in less than two minutes. To reach the beginners trail about halfway up the trail skiers could take a beltway that moved along at the speed of a fast escalator. The huge refrigerating units that keep the temperatures inside the building below freezing were under a concrete floor below the snow. Two hour lift tickets were $54 for adults and $41 for children; Rental gear was $17 for adults and $14 for children.

An increasing number of Australians and South Koreans are skiing on Japanese slopes in Hokkaido and the Nagano area.

High-Tech Recreation in Japan

Japan is a leader in recreation technology. Because space is at a premium Japanese can go horse back riding, ski, go parachuting, or play golf without stepping outside. These sports are all done in front of a projection screen. Horseback riders sits on a mechanical horse that moves up and down while watching trails pass by on a screen. Commenting on his experience at gym in Tokyo, Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times, "I was on a Japanese treadmill gazing at the usual numbers, speed and calorie count and so on, when I started to get mesmerized by the little images of food and drink on the screen. At 35 calories, there was a frothy cappuccino, and then at 75 two pieces of tuna sushi, to be followed at 126 by an ice cream cone, at 150 by a beer and at 204 by an elegant glass decanter of sake. The 300-calorie mark ushered in chocolate cake, which segued at 325 to cheesecake. At 450 calories I caught a sweat-drenched glimpse of an egg-topped sandwich suggestive of a Croque Madame. Whatever followed was lost in translation." [Source: Roger Cohen, New York Times, December 14, 2009]

"I'd never seen anything like this in any gym and found myself lost in an obsessive, screen-gazing state. Were these images, I wondered, warnings about dishes and drinks to be avoided, or were they invitations to enjoy them later, the visual projection of a no-pain-no-gain philosophy? Or were they simply calorie-count notices of the kind now found in New York restaurants?"

"I still don't know. But my sense is that the state I found myself in, of playful fixation on a screen, imagining the bite of the ice-cold beer and the unctuousness of the sushi, contained something peculiarly Japanese. This is not to say of course that kids the world over are not mesmerized by screens of various forms often showing Japanese-made video games. But I'm not aware of any other nation where fantasy, escapism and the cyber world have fused with such intensity."

I found myself playing to fool exhaustion as Chinese dumplings adorned the treadmill. "What's all this food?" I finally asked a man on the neighboring machine. He had no doubt: "Things you should not eat." Turned out he was a New York lawyer representing Yoko Ono and there, when I turned around, was Yoko, doing stretching exercises with a trainer. She was smiling, a picture of serenity. All you need is love. All you need is Yuai, especially as Japan leads humanity's rush into isolating forms of electronic obsession.

Kite Flying and Bowling in Japan

traditional Japanese kite
Kite Fighting is Hamamatsu is taken so seriously that special police are often brought in break up fist fights and keep people from getting trampled to death.

Shirone Takogassen is a huge kite fighting festival in June that last for five days and is held along the Nakanokuchi river bank in Shirone, Niigata Prefecture. Over 300 years old, it is said to be the world's largest kite fight. About 300 kites take part. They are made from bamboo and washi paper and can be as large as 23-x-17 feet and weigh as much as 50 kilograms. Each kite has a unique design that has in some cases remained unchanged for three centuries. Tsugaru kites are often decorated with well-known historical figures. Many have ukiyoe-style pictures. The rope is made at great expense from hemp.

Teams from Shirane compete against teams from nearby Akikatamaru village. In a typical fight one kite from Shirone is raised on one side of the river and a second kite from Akikatamaru is raised on the other side of the river. Teams of 30 to 50 men run along the river bank, pulling the kites towards one another. The teams the severe the other's line usually in just a few minutes is the winner. Seven matches are held with seven groups from each town. The number of battles won and the amount of time the kites stay aloft determines the overall winner.

Describing one fight Tatsuya Sakamoto wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: "Giant Kites waged a dynamic air battle...Their lines became entangled with one another high above the 80-meter-wide stream before plunging into the water. Participants then yanked on the 130-meter-long lines with all their might in what quickly became a giant tug of war."

Japan experienced a bowling craze in the 1970s. It peaked with 120,000 lanes at 3,700 locations and then crashed and stabilized at 40,000 lanes in less than 1,000 locations. For a while Fukuyama Bowl in Osaka, with 156 lanes, was the world's largest bowling center.

To attract customers bowling alleys feature fancy bars and salons, fancy lighting, lanes that can be curtained off. One alley dims the lights and turns on red and blue lights that follow the balls,.

In an effort to generate more interest in bowling, bowling alleys are targeting kindergartners by sponsoring certain days in which young children can bowl for free, using special lightweight balls they can roll with two hands and hire a man in a panda costume to entertain the kids in hopes that they will want to come back.

Gateball and Ground Golf and Sports for Seniors

According to Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Japanese also vigorously enjoying leisure activities in their retirement years. Retirees who are particularly health-conscious are using their free time to play tennis or golf, go jogging, or have fun hiking and mountaineering. There is also a strong interest in studying and taking lessons among retirees, who are engaging in lifelong learning on topics that interest them by actively participating in classes and seminars held at local cultural centers or universities. Many retirees are also traveling to a wide array of destinations for a variety of reasons, whether visiting scenic and historical spots of interest to them or hot-spring resorts to improve their health. There are also many who are traveling overseas, which has increased the proportion of elderly among overseas travelers. The elderly have also become more eager to play an active social role through local volunteer activities and the like. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

Gateball is an outdoor popular with the elderly. Modeled after croquet, with elements of golf and curling thrown in, it is played with three wickets and a single post and it is a team game with five members on two teams hitting balls in turn, and requires great skill to place the ball where the team captain wants. One missed shot can spell doom for a team. When players hit their opponent's ball many do it gently rather than aggressively.

Gateball was created in Memurocho, Hokkaido in 1947. The game was originally devised as an easy game for children but it was picked up by a home for the elderly in Kumamoto Prefecture as good game for old people after the Tokyo Olympics generated nationwide interest in sports. After that gateball quickly caught on with elderly across Japan. According to the Japan Gateball Union, more than 6 million people played the sport when it was at its peak in 1990. Now about 2 million play it.

In the late 2000s gateball became increasingly popular with young people with some high schools having teams and competing in the All Japan Junior Gateball Games. One team player told the Yomiuri Shimbun, "It's so thrilling when my turn to hit comes around. Even if someone misses a shot, our teamwork can guide us to victory. In the meantime many elderly people have switched to ground golf a game in which players hit balls with a mallet into cages set up around a field.

Hunting in Japan

wild boar
Hunters in Japan go after wild boar, pheasants, deer, hares, ducks, dove and bulbul and sometimes bears. There are special rules for registering and storing guns (see Crime). Some Japanese complain that hunters approach too close to residential areas. I've encountered them on hiking trails.

Japan has the world's strictest gun control laws. There is a total ban of handguns, except for legitimate antique gun collectors and licensed shooting teams. Japan gun control laws date back to 1588, just four decades after firearms were introduced by the Portuguese.

Getting a gun license takes an average of four months and a series of special training courses to acquire. Buying a hunting rifle requires enduring a lengthy waiting period and going through a rigorous background check. Japan's registered shotgun owners and licensed samurai swordsmen are required to keep their weapons in lockboxes that are inspected by police once a year. Even nail gun used by carpenters have to be registered.

To obtain a hunter's license one must listen to lectures and pass two tests in Japanese: the first is on laws; the second is firearms safety and animal identification. The fee for the license is approximately ¥30,000 per year. Every three years a hunter must take a refresher course and submit new paperwork. To own a gun one must go to the police and make a case of why you need one. If the request is approved the applicant needs to take two tests on law and safety. Upon passing the tests one can apply for a permit for a particular kind of weapon. Upon purchasing a weapon one must register it with police, confirm that it is kept under lock and key at all times and submit to a background check. Each year the weapons must be brought to the police at a specific time for a check.

The number of hunters has dropped by about half over the past 30 years to about 200,000. The decline is due primarily to the fact that older hunters are dying off and few young people are taking up the sport.

In mid 2000s, a hunter had to be rescued after getting stuck in the cave of a hibernating bear for 24 hours in mountains in Takayama, Gifu Prefecture. The hunter got stuck in the three-meter-long cave while trying to pull the bear out after killing it with a shotgun. He stayed warm by huddling next his dog. A rescue was launched after his wife reported that he had not come home.

Decline of Hunting in Japan

Few young people are interested in hunting, plus many Japanese find the idea of killing animals abhorrent and don't like guns. And then there are the gun laws. After a random shooting incident in Sasebo, Nagasaki Province in 2007 people who want to own a hunting rifle are now required to submit a certifiicate from a psychiatrist stating they are sane enough to shoot a gun, which turns people off to hunting.

According to Dainihon Ryoyu-kai, a national federation of hunting associations, its membership fell from 375,000 in 1980 to 119,000 in 2009, and members' average age has risen. The number of registred hunters in Chiyoda ward, Tokyo fell from 425,000 in 1978 to 119,000 in 2009. One hunter who gave up his gun in 2010, 40 years after obtaining it told the Yomiuri Shimbun procedures for gun possession have become too complicated for me. Besides my family worried about me having a rifle at home."

Some hunters go after Japanese pheasants. The three-month hunting last from December to February. They are hunted with small-gauge shotguns and tall, lanky pointers. Almost as soon as the hunting season ends male pheasants reappear in the fields. Their loud, piercing two-note "kii-kiin" call is frequently heard. The Chinese bamboo partridge is also widely hunted. [Source: Kevin Short, Daily Yomiuri, February 17, 2011]

Fishing in Japan

custom-made wood
edo fishing rods
In Japan, you can often see old men around inner city ponds fishing for carp. In the mountains there are recreational ponds where you pay a fee to catch fish and rent poles as if you were at a bowling alley or a on a ski slope. In some urban areas you can find game centers that have small indoor ponds used by fishermen. One facility in Osaka has a 9-x-8-meter pond that is stocked with 1,700 fish of three carp species. Fishermen pay ¥1,400, which includes fishing tackle and bait. Children catch crayfish in ponds with a fishing rod, using crayfish as bait to take advantage of crayfish's cannibalistic inclinations.

Japanese fishing tackle businesses are producing environmentally-friendly fishing gear such as weights that use something other than lead, which slowly dissolves in water and can poison the environment, and lines and lures, which can break and become entangled around fish, turtles, other sea creatures and birds. The new weights are made of iron or tungsten which are not as environmentally-destructive as lead, and fishing lines made of biodegradable materials.

Quality bamboo fishing rods made by Kisaburo Nakane, a forth generation rod maker, who works out of the Saochu tackle shop in Tokyo makes traditional Edo-style rods using 120 processes, including cutting and heating the bamboo and applying. It takes three months to a year to make such a rod. 30 coast of lacquer Baleen from bowhead whales to transfer delicate vibrations down the rod to the fisherman's hands.

The making of flies and lures is also a an art form practiced by skilled craftsmen. Lures to catch “ayu”, or sweetfish, is a specialty of Kanazawa. They are made from one-centimeter long hooks and gilded led balls that have different kinds of feathers and different colored threads tied to them. Different patterns are used depending on the temperature, sunlight and water conditions. One store in Kanazawa that has been open since 1575 offers 900 different lures. The owners recommends using red lures in the morning and blue or green ones in the afternoon.

For a brief period in Toyama Bay on the west coast of Japan between the months of April and June billions of finger-size bioluminescent squid rise up from their home in the depths to the surface to mate. Fishermen in the town along the bay sponsor excursions to the places where the squid are found. Normally polite and well behaved Japanese tourist push and shove their way on to the boat to make sure they get a good spot. When the boat reaches the squid site the Japanese tourists dip nets into the water and pull up these living blue sparklers by the armful onto the decks of the boat, where every part of their body shrivels up except for their eyes which stick out grotesquely.╺

Ice fishing inside tents for small wakasagi fish and pond smelt is popular on Lake Haruna in Takasaki, and Onuma Lake in Fujimimura, both in Gunma Prefecture, Before fishing is allowed the thickness of the ice is checked at four points around the lake is only authorized if the thickness exceeds 15 centimeters. In the winter of 2006-2007 the ice never reached that thickness and no ice fishing was allowed.

In December 2009, six sports fishermen were killed and one survived when their boat capsized in heavy seas and frigid waters off Hokkaido. Many thought the fishermen were stupid to be out in such rough weather.

Bass Fishing and Japanese Fishermen

fishing lures
Black bass (also known as large mouth bass) are a favorite catch for fishermen in the United States. They were intentionally released in Japan by fishing enthusiasts and bait salesmen as well by some local organizations hoping to attract fishermen. Black bass can lay eggs up to three times year and they are voracious carnivores that feed on the eggs and fry of other fish. The first black bass were reportedly brought from California and placed in Lake Ashi near Tokyo in 1925 by a fishermen who found them sporting to catch. Over the years more were introduced and spread, with some even finding their way into the moat around the Imperial Palace.

Bass fishing has become so big that many Japanese anglers who like to catch the fish travel to the United States to catch in its homeland. One Japanese fishermen at Diamond Valley Lake in California told the Los Angeles Times, "For me it is bass or die. I have bet my life for bass."

On Japanese anglers, the editor of an American fishing magazine told the Los Angeles Times, "Their presentations are so precise. Each 40-foot cast has to be perfect. Their casting skills, pitching skills, are just dead on target, no wasted motion."

But at home bass fisherman are regarded as outlaws, and worse than that, bad mannered louts. Bass fishing is especially popular with men under 30. There are clothes, gear and magazines and even bas fishing video games designed for them.

Some of the top professional bass fishermen in the United States are Japanese. In 2005, bass angling top prize — champion of the Bassmaster Classic — was won by Japanese fisherman Takahiro Omori on Lake Wylie in North Carolina. It was the first time a non-American won the event. On the final day he was able to land three fish weighing 39 pounds and two ounces that have him a 2.75 pound advantage over the second place finisher. Omori arrived in the United States in 1992, speaking hardly any English, with the sole purpose of making it as a professional angler.

Winter Sports in Japan

The popularity of winter sports in Japan is substantiated by the country's distinction of being the first Asian country to host the Winter Olympics (1972). Further proof can be found in its role as host to both the first and second Winter Asian Games (1986 and 1990). To these, of course, the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano can now be added. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

"Japan's climate, above all, permits a thriving winter sports season. Winters are governed by the coldest air mass in the world, the Siberian air mass. The frequent approach of cold fronts from the Asian mainland causes Japan to experience much lower temperatures than European regions at the same latitude. Tokyo, at 35̊ north latitude, has an average January temperature of 4.7̊C, as opposed to the similar 4.2̊C January average in London, located at 51̊ north latitude. As the Siberian air mass approaches Japan, it picks up moisture from the Sea of Japan. As a result, regions facing the Asian continent often receive heavy snowfall. Joetsu City in Niigata Prefecture recorded 232 centimeters of snow in one day during 1986 enough to bury a one-story building. This presents a startling contrast with the Pacific attracted Ocean side of the archipelago, which tends to be quite dry and receives much less snow during the winter.

"Another factor that enhances the winter sports environment is that four-fifths of Japan's land area is composed of mountains. The Japan Alps a range that is divided into Northern, Central, and Southern sectors runs down the central part of Honshu, the largest of the four Japanese islands. Many peaks in the Japan Alps are over 2,500 meters high and are covered with snow during the winter. Since these areas can be reached easily by the rail and highway network from the three major population centers in Kanto, Chubu, and Kinki (with Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, respectively, at their centers), it is natural that these areas are among the most popular for winter sports. A skier, for example, can board a Joetsu Shinkansen (bullet train) on a brisk and sunny day in Tokyo, and in just over one hour be at a resort in Niigata Prefecture or Nagano Prefecture where there are two to four meters of snow. Depending on the region and prevailing weather conditions, it is usually possible to ski from December through the beginning of April.

In the Nordic combined event, the Japanese team won consecutive gold medals at the Albertville Games and the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and Kono Takanori won an individual silver medal in that event at the 1994 Games. For women's freestyle mogul skiing, Satoya Tae won a gold medal at the Nagano Games and a bronze medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

Ski Resorts in Japan

Most of the major winter sports areas on the island of Honshu are easily accessible by railway and are outfitted with chairlifts and night illumination. A large number of ski grounds are located along the Joetsu line, which terminates in Tokyo. These include Tsuchitaru, Nakazato, Iwappara, Yuzawa, Ishiuchi, Shiozawa, Urasa, Koide, and Ojiya. Sugadaira Ski Grounds is a ski resort located along the Shinetsu line, between Mt. Azumaya and Mt. Neko. Zao, a resort on the border of Miyagi and Yamagata prefectures, has the reputation of being the largest and best equipped ski area in the Tohoku region. It is also famous for its "snow monsters," ice-covered pine trees that make for stunning winter scenery. [Source: Web-Japan, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan]

"Hokkaido's northern latitudes permit skiing from early December to late April. Most of the ski grounds provide a variety of slopes that offer not only challenges to experts, but safe skiing for beginners. Many of these ski facilities are located close to Hokkaido's major cities. Skating can be enjoyed at many lakes and outdoor rinks, and also in some urban areas. Hakone, a recreational area near Mount Fuji, offers good skating facilities. It can easily be reached from Tokyo by train in less than two hours.

"A winter vacation at a Japanese resort area means more than just sports. Like so many other aspects of modern-day living, the pace of recreation in Japan has accelerated and the ways in which people enjoy winter sports have changed. Previously, this would have involved staying in a “ryokan” (Japanese inn), or family-run bed-and-breakfast, and enjoying pleasures such as hot springs, the beautiful landscape, and of course skiing. Recently, however, there has been a surge in the number of ski resorts that have large hotels offering a wide range of facilities, and now there are a great many more things to do than just ski. They feature a variety of restaurants including those with Japanese, Chinese and European cuisines, golf courses, shopping malls and beauty spas these days, winter resorts offer much more than sports.

"The availability of domestic package tours that include transportation, hotel, meals, ski lift tickets, and so on, has made the business aspect of winter sports much more competitive. To kindle consumer interest, resorts have responded by promoting discount packages and offering new styles of skiing, such as freestyle and Telemark skiing. The popularity of snowboards has grown so rapidly that nearly all ski areas in Japan now permit snowboarding. This has required the adoption of additional safety measures. As they have changed to better suit modern life styles, in recent years ski resorts have seen a huge rise in the number of customers from abroad as well as those from Japan. Hokkaido, which is known as the biggest winter resort area in Japan, saw a 500 percent increase in overseas visitors in the 10 years through 2006 as it gained recognition as an international ski resort destination.

Image Sources: 1) Ray Kinnane 2) Okinawa Convention and Vistors Bureau 3) Tokyo Islands 4) Snow Japan 5) Shearaton 6) 8) Wikipedia 7) Goods from Japan 9) 10) Association for the Promotion of Traditional Crafts Industries in Japan

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated January 2013

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