Nearly 50 years ago, Japan experienced a bowling craze. People tuned in on TV to watch curvaceous female professionals like Ritsuko Nakayama, who in 1970 became the first woman to score a perfect 300. At that time, as many as 3,697 bowling alleys sprung up all over the land, and so high was the demand for the special type of hardwood used to build the surface of the alleys, U.S. suppliers warned that depleted forest stocks would take half a century to regrow.
Then the boom went bust: Shukan Post (Nov 24) writes that at present only 784 bowling alleys operate in Japan. And some were starting to wonder if the sport here had any future at all. But to practically everyone's surprise, demand was suddenly rekindled. Round One, which operates 108 alleys nationwide, found that that on weekends, its customers faced waiting times of from 90 minutes to three hours.
"Customers are starting to come back in droves," a manager at Round One told the magazine. "I'd say users have doubled over the past five years."
Shukan Post's article was timed to the 40th Japan National Bowling Championships, beginning Nov 2, which was hosted by what appears to be the world's largest bowling alley: the 116-lane Inazawa Grand Bowl in Aichi Prefecture.
Says Hiroaki Okada, head of the Japan Bowling Alley Association: "Bowling is an activity you can begin right from the first line, and move your body at your own pace. It doesn't cost a lot, and appeals to the whole family, from seniors to their grand children. The number of seniors who bowl has been increasing and more workshops providing seniors with instructions are being conducted."
According to the annual "White Paper on Leisure" that researches leisure activities in Japan, during 2016, 10.1 million Japanese said they went bowling at least once during the year that just ended. That figure is roughly twice the number of golfers. A separate survey estimated that over the past decade the number of bowlers in Japan age 60 and above increased by about 400,000.
The Bowling Alley Association also noted that compared with only 54 elderly (men over 80 and women over 75) who went bowling regularly in 1996, that figure has now climbed to 6,940.
At the Strikers Nishi Funabashi Bowl in Chiba prefecture, three instructional workshops are held for beginners each day, with many seniors in attendance.
"From 20 to 40 applicants quickly sign up each time we hold one," says Koichi Fujii, the manager. "After they finish the workshop, it's common for them to order their own personal bowling ball and participate in league competition. Right now, our oldest is 88."
Bowling is considered beneficial for seniors, providing aerobic activities and strengthening cardiovascular function, as well as exercising joints and the muscular system. What's more, interacting with other players and keeping score stimulates the brain, helping seniors to ward off senility.
In addition to the alleys themselves, more customers are socializing at bars and restaurants attached to the facilities, some of which are quite snazzy, enough to appeal to salaryman types and students.
"Some people come and eat first and then bowl, so there are various ways they use the facilities," said an employee at Shibuya Bowling. "Young people feel laid back in here, and can enjoy it too."
Shukan Post notes that this sort of venue, where both elderly and young enjoy socializing, suggests a revival of sports for the common man as were popularized during the decades of the Showa Era (1926-1989).© Japan Today