TOKYO >> Over the past year, Yuki Muraoka noticed an uptick in the number of recreational anglers visiting his favorite fishing haunts in Tokyo. Whether alone or with family, those equipped with rods and reels would flock to popular spots along canals flowing into Tokyo Bay and rivers running through the city, such as the Sumida and Arakawa.
“Some bridge pilings see a gathering of over a dozen fishers at a time,” said the sculptor, who took up fishing eight years ago. “If you take a stroll by a river, even at night, you’ll likely see anglers. I’ve also met beginners on their first fishing expeditions.”
While Muraoka has largely been avoiding traveling long distances amid stay-at-home requests, he says there are still plenty of urban fishing spots to frequent.
“Next month I’m planning to go out on a boat to catch red sea bream in Tokyo Bay,” he said.
More people in Japan are being lured in by fishing and boating as the outdoor activities’ social- distancing and mental-health benefits appeal to those seeking fresh air during the pandemic.
The number of visitors to Original Maker Umizuri Koen, a sea fishing park in the coastal city of Ichihara, Chiba prefecture, has grown about 10% compared to a regular year, said director Akio Sudo. The park features a wharf extending into the water, as well as restaurants and shops that sell and rent fishing gear. “During weekdays it’s mostly older people, and on weekends there are many families with kids,” he said.
Sales of fishing gear are also robust. In its earnings report, Shimano Inc., a leading maker of fishing tackle, saw revenue for the 2020 financial year grow 4.1% year-on-year, to $3.5 billion. Based on interest in outdoor leisure activities during the pandemic, it forecast a 20.5% increase in sales in 2021.
According to Marketandresearch.biz, the global market for sports fishing equipment is on an upward trend, projected to reach $14.95 billion by 2025, from $13.17 billion in 2019.
“The number of those acquiring boating licenses also soared in 2020,” said Masao Fujii of the Japan Marine Industry Association. The figure hit 69,000 for the first time in 15 years, according the Japan Marine Recreation Association.
Boat club memberships also reached a record high of 4,800 in 2020. And while sales of new boats dipped slightly in 2020 due to shortages of vessels, the used boat market saw sales grow 7% to 95,000 in 2020, according to the Japan Craft Inspection Organization.
“We’re quite surprised at these figures, since we were bracing for a blow. Looking ahead, we’d like to cultivate new boating fans, not just individuals and small groups, but also large parties,” said Fujii.
Katsumasa Taniguchi, the owner of Marine Stage, a dive shop in Wakayama prefecture, said hordes of divers who couldn’t travel to overseas dive sites have been visiting his store over the past year. “Many ended up becoming repeat customers.”
Kazuhito Inoue, a Tokyo-based art dealer who frequents the waters around Mikomoto Island off the southern coast of the Izu Peninsula, said diving is the perfect pandemic sport.
“Diving in the ocean is the ultimate social-distancing activity.”