Online Journey to the Big Tackle Shows in Japan
Story by Russ Bassdozer, Matt
Paino and Hideyuki Nomura, editor of Lure Magazine
Right now as
you read this (early spring 2007) is the crunch time in the US
tackle manufacturing industry. All manufacturers are backlogged
on orders. Factories run full shift in catch-up mode. They're all
awash in a downpour of orders that will take weeks or months to
fill. Most US manufacturers don't mind the backlog. You see, they
tend to sell more in these brief few months than the rest of the
the world in Japan, the tackle industry is heating up there right
now also. Two major tackle shows (one in Osaka, another in
Yokohama) are the perennial season-openers that kick-start
Japan's tackle season.
Not able to get
the time off; can't afford the high price of international
airfare, hotel rooms or sushi dinners to get to Japan's tackle
shows yourself? This article's the next best thing. First, a
precursor about bass fishing in Japan to get you in the mood,
followed by a long list of almost 200 exhibitors you may come
across if you were able to visit the big tackle shows in Japan.
Largemouth, smallmouth or spotted
bass purportedly live in at least 81 countries. It makes sense
that there's likely to be some enterprising local or regional
brand marketing of parochial bass lures in many of these
countries. Overall however, there are only two main countries -
the United States and Japan - that heavily design and develop
brands of bass lures.
Of course, the US brands are well
known in the states, but many of Japan's best bass lures are
virtually unknown and unfished in America. One young American,
Matt Paino, 29 years old and CEO of Optimum Baits Company in
California, is helping change that.
One theory of human evolution or
migration states that way back when, there was a land bridge from
the Far East, across what is now the Bering Sea between Alaska
and Russia, and early humans from the Far East walked across that
land bridge, populating North America. Today the bridge for Far
East tackle companies from Japan to cross into the USA is Matt
Leading tackle companies, ones
that have proven to be major successes in Japan, they have tried
on their own to establish their products in the USA - and more
often than not, they fail here. It may be a matter of cultural or
marketing differences compounded by the language barrier, or
whatever. The fact is that many good tackle companies in Japan
have tried and failed, unable to establish their products on
their own in the USA. With his dual understanding and involvement
in the tackle industry in both countries however, Matt Paino has
ushered several of Japan's premier tackle companies into the USA
with success in 2006, including deps, Ima, Zappu, Active and
Vagabond, with more surely to follow.
Including attending college in
Japan, Matt lived, worked and fished in Japan for almost seven
years overall, four of which Matt ran Optimum Baits Company in
Japan. "It's been a wonderful experience," exclaims
Matt who married his sweetheart, Chinami, last year in Japan.
Matt first went to live in Japan
at the age of 21, as an exchange student at Waseda University in
Tokyo, Japan. On Saturdays, Matt worked part-time during college
at one of Tokyo's premier tackle shops, named Tokyo Sunrise.
"Tokyo Sunrise was one of the
first tackle stores in Japan to import bass tackle from the
United States. A family-owned store, it had only sold traditional
Japanese fishing tackle until the nineteen-seventies, which is
when the son (the current owner) started to import U.S. bass
tackle. That period marks the origin of bass lure fishing in
Japan," says Matt.
"Although the Japanese bass
fishing industry was originally 100% imported from the states, it
was not long before exclusively Japanese research and development
began to create new lures and especially - new TECHNIQUES. As I
became involved in bass fishing in Japan, I quickly found not
only lures but techniques they use in Japan that are not yet
known in the USA," explains Paino.
|Says Shunji Tanaka of Gary
International, which is Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits subsidiary in
- Same as in the northern states of
the USA, the best season for bass fishing in Japan is May and
June. In this period, many anglers in Japan go bass fishing on
their days off.
- In winter when it's too cold for
effective lure fishing, Japanese anglers enjoy bait fishing, not
lure fishing, in the salt water, rivers and lakes.
- The major bass tournaments in
Japan are run by JB http://www.jbnbc.jp/.
The JB (Japan Basspro Organization) in Japan is equivalent to
BASS or FLW in the USA.
- In Japan, bass is considered a
harmful fish by some people. There are some lakes in which they
don't allow "catch and release" but promote catch and
kill. The general public are sometimes told that bass eat every
native Japanese fish in the lake and because of that, they're
called devil fish by some.
"What I've learned living in
Japan and being a part of the Japanese bass fishing industry is
that the Japanese anglers are a very studious bunch. They are
always working on new and creative techniques. The dropshot
technique that the Japanese introduced to America several years
back has by now become a household term to US bass anglers. But
the Japanese have created other new techniques and lures. One is
called Inchi Wacky or Jig Head Wacky," reveals Paino.
"This technique had taken Japan by storm starting in 2004
when two top Japanese bass pros, Takuma Hata of Zappu Inc. and
Toshiro Ono of Jackall Inc had pioneered the craze. Hata
introduced the Inchi Wacky technique to the Japanese press soon
after he returned from a tournament in Korea in a feature article
with Lure Magazine. Soon thereafter, Toshiro Ono took first place
in the 2004 Basser All-Star Classic on the Jig Head Wacky Rig.
With the press picking up on the technique, it wasn't long before
everyone in Japan wanted to find out what was behind their
success, and the technique is no longer entirely new there now,
yet Inchi Wacky tactics and jigs are still unknown in the
"S Ji Kei" embodies
another new lure concept from Japan. They are a new genre of
lipless lures that swim with an action that traces the letter S
through the water throughout the retrieve. Translated into
English, "S Ji Kei Lures" could be called "S
Action Lures" if they were on the market in the USA, but
they are not here yet.
"So there are lots of lures
that haven't made it out of Japan, but more importantly I would
say the techniques are still unknown in the states. Now in the
USA, you see Lucky Craft, Megabass and some Lake Police today.
Deps is a leading Japanese lure producer that just started being
seen in the USA in 2006. Another company, Evergreen, is actually
number one product-wise in Japan right now. Some of Evergreen's
sponsored pro anglers such as Morizo Shimizu have come to fish
the top tournament trails in the states, and they've done well.
All Japanese anglers are well aware of Morizo Shimizu's success
in the USA. Nevertheless Evergreen's products are not yet known
in the USA," Paino explains.
Evergreen International is said
to be the leading bass tackle manufacturer in Japan today. Photo
by Lure Magazine.
Japanese anglers crowd the
exhibition hall, quite eager to learn from Morizo Shimizu, an
Evergreen pro-staffer who is very well-respected for being a
successful angler in the United States. Photo by Lure Magazine.
"The Japanese people in
general are a very meticulous culture, paying huge amounts of
attention to detail. Hence, the amount of research and detail
they put into their lures. The average angler here is much more
in tune with what each manufacturer is producing and all of their
new tackle. There is a strong awareness of precisely how each and
every manufacturer and model of Japanese bait measures up against
"Working at the tackle store
during college, I soon realized how studious the everyday
Japanese angler is toward the angling magazines. Guys would come
in and buy lures by the basketful if they heard that it was
working or if it was a trend written about in a Japanese bass
Matt explains, "A country the
size of California, Japan's population is 125 million. Yet the
bass anglers support five national monthly bass magazines in
Japan. A few are several hundred pages long per issue, a magazine
size unheard of in the USA. Yet it's the monthly norm of bass and
lure fishing detail that's digested by the studious following of
Japanese anglers. The five national magazines will get in-depth
on the manufacturers' new products and that instantly creates the
trends for new tackle and techniques. It's not a preoccupation
with lures they have, but their waters are so small and
overfished, they feel a need to constantly evolve techniques and
products the fish have not seen there yet."
|In Japan, each retail fishing
tackle shop has a small "reserved room" behind the
counter, with special items not put out on the floor. In some
cases, this is a small but special merchandise show room, or it
could simply be an area or shelf sequestered behind a curtain.
For a special customer, the shop owner may decide to bring out a
tray of some special and hard-to-get lures (or it could even be
special rods, reels or other tackle of extraordinary quality),
and the privileged customer may be able to admire but only buy
one of the items at that time. It is something of an honor and a
sign of appreciation for the store proprietor to extend this
courtesy to a customer.
At home, it is not uncommon for a
devout Japanese bass angler to have a sacred kind of fishing
corner in his house. It is just a small space where his rods,
reels, lures, tackle bag, fishing vest or jacket, hat and other
accessories are prepared and laid out in this special corner in a
befitting manner when he is not using them. A sort of a shrine to
fishing? Yes, I think so. His corner may contain photos, a lucky
lure or other special object like that. In this way, no
matter what else goes on in his life, his fishing corner remains
tranquil and always ready. One look at it brings back the many
memories his fishing corner holds of fish and friends past...and
it holds his wishes of fishes yet to come in his future.
Lures, of course, are an important
part of this. After all, it is the lure that the fish dreams to
bite. The fish hasn't any interest whatsoever in the rod, reel,
line, fishing vest, patches, hat, tackle bag, boat, motor,
trailer, electronics or tow rig. All necessary? Surely. Yet the
fish dreams of the lure alone, and the fish honors the
manufacturer who made it and honors the angler who presents this
lure to the fish in the manner that is befitting for the fish to
The moment when the fish is lured
and played...when the hook's hold is removed from his lip...when
the man grasps an astonishingly fine fish in his hand. He
respects it, thanks it for making the dream his reality, and
returns it carefully back to its life. The man and the fish have
both been set free. Time and life's troubles do not exist at that
moment. It is the moment that fishing means. It is the moment
that lives forever - never to be forgotten, never to be excused,
confused or compromised by anything else - in the angler's sacred
fishing corner of his mind.
Actually, some US anglers do
something quite similar. Indeed, it is common for American
anglers to also fondly display their favorite tackle, memorable
photos or killer lures in a special area or arrangement in the
family den, on the mantelpiece or wherever. Although we don't
quite think of it in terms of a shrine, it's a respectful display
of fishing gear put up in the special spot each fisherman
reserves for his stuff. No one else in the family dares touch it.
It's all perfectly ready and waiting for the next trip. We may
take out one or two killer lures to honor, displaying them in
clear sight to remind us of what each one has caught us and
what each one is yet to catch. We dream. It is the same dream as
all anglers worldwide.
With his dual country bass fishing
experiences, his industry involvement with Optimum Baits in Japan
and the USA, Matt is qualified to share what he feels are the
differences in bass fishing between the two countries. "The
biggest difference I see between Japanese anglers and U.S.
anglers is that in Japan, the lakes and bodies of water are so
small that an angler doesn't have to find the fish. The fish are
in the lake, and the lake is only so big, and there's certain to
be other anglers staked out in many spots. So you may only have a
small stretch of water within which one can operate. This creates
intense fishing pressure, and because of such constant pressure,
the Japanese angler's mind-set has to be focused on how am I
going to catch the fish? What methods and with what lure? With
U.S. anglers, the mind-set is where are the fish at? How am I
going to find the fish first, and lures and tactics are
secondary, almost unimportant in relation to finding the fish.
You hear American anglers describe this mind-set all the time. US
anglers feel that if you do a good job at finding the fish first,
the mind-set is they'll strike many lures. They say the best lure
is simply no good until you've found the fish. Japanese anglers,
their mind-set is, when you arrive at the lake, you've found the
fish, you've got a little stretch of bank to fish, that's all. So
their first and only focus is what tactics and lures to get the
fish in that given spot to cooperate."
"Many say that the reasons
why the Japanese are constantly developing new lures and
techniques are because the lakes and ponds are so pressured that
the bass in Japan see the same lures and techniques over and over
and if the anglers donít change things up they end up getting
blanked. Creating something the bass have never seen before
improves the odds of catching fish. No matter where you fish,
this will hold true," espouses Matt Paino.
KATSUTAKA IMAE, JAPAN'S MOST FAMOUS BASS
There are legendary pro anglers in
Japan, national stars who have climbed to the top of bass
mountain in their own country. So they embark to the United
States with the mind-set and ability to achieve top tournament
status in the states. Bassmaster Classic winner Takahiro Omori,
Toshi Namiki, Shinichi Fukae, Yusuke Muyazaki, Norio Tanabe and
Morizo Shimizu are a few of Japan's luminary figures who rank
high on the top tours here today. In Japan, these hometown heroes
are closely followed. Their stateside fishing techniques are
emulated. They tend to be movers and shakers, designers and
promoters of some of the most highly successful bass tackle on
the Japanese market.
The Japanese pros who have come
here to fish the BASS and FLW tours have become part of the
fabric of our American sport as well. A top Japanese pro is in
close contention to win any major tournament in the USA, and
their successes are followed here too, in practically every major
bass TV show or fishing magazine in the USA.
Yet you may not have heard of
Japan's greatest bass angler. Hands down that title belongs to
Katsutaka Imae, age 41, from Osaka, Japan, and you may not have
heard of the hottest soft plastic bait in Japan in recent times
either, the Javallon made by his company, Imakatsu. There's
really only one place we know to get it in the USA - on eBay from
sellers in Japan.
With 2 JB World Classic
Championships and being honored as JB Bass Angler of the year 3
times, Katsutaka Imae's popularity amongst Japanese fishing
enthusiasts is ranked number one and his companyís homepage
averages 15,000 fans viewing daily.
IMAE'S AWARDS AND CREDENTIALS IN JAPAN:
1989,1991 & 1992 JB BASS ANGLER OF THE YEAR
1990 & 1992 BASSER ALLSTAR CLASSIC CHAMPION
1996 & 1998 JB SUPER BASS CLASSIC CHAMPION
2001 & 2004 JB WORLD SERIES CHAMPION
2004 JB CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS WINNER
2005 JB ELITE 5 CHAMPION
Imakatsu, Inc. (He's the company president)
Evergreen International (Temujin, Inspire Custom lures)
Pure Fishing (Abu Garcia, Berkley)
Popeye Company (Ranger Boats Japan)
Motor Guide Japan (trolling motor)
Toray Fishing (fishing line)
Meiho Chemical (tackle box)
Shimada (far right, wearing
white cap) is a famous angler in Japan, an equivalent to
America's Mike Long. In Japan, Shimada is known as the #1 MONSTER
FISH HUNTER! He fishes for BIG fish only. He holds the Japanese
record at 19.15 lbs. He has caught the 4 largest bass on record
in Japan. Overall, he has caught over 40 fish in Japan that weigh
over 10 lbs. Shimada is coming for 12 days to fish at Lake Dixon
in California from March 27 to April 9, 2007. This will be
Shimada's quest to catch the World Record Bass at Lake Dixon.
Matt Paino, CEO of Optimum Bait
Company (shown on left) poses for a picture with Shimada who
landed Japan's national record 19.15 lb. largemouth on an Optimum
swimbait. Matt has been involved in the bass fishing industry
since the age of twelve. "That's when my father, Tony Paino,
bought AA Worms Inc, and he started Optimum Baits Company in 1996
in Southern California." Today, son Matt is CEO of Optimum
Baits. He and dad Tony still produce Optimum's legendary
swimbaits in California.
In 2006, Paino helped deps
successfully introduce it's unique Buzzjet and Basirisky frog to
"It's true that
several companies such as Lucky Craft and Megabass have
established themselves and their products in the USA on their own
accord. It's also true that other worthy Japanese companies have
tried and failed to do that. Any one of these company's products
are good enough to succeed but it takes a lot more than just good
products to launch a company in the USA," says Matt Paino.
Megabass has established itself
in the USA based mainly on the ongoing legendary status of
several of its lure products, including most recently, the Ito
Vision 110 jerkbait. It is not a new jerkbait in Japan, although
it's rise to stature in the USA is recent. Photo by Lure
IMA dominates the saltwater
lure market in Japan due to its innovative lure body shapes and
colors. IMA gets its name from the first three letters of the
word, imagination. With Matt Paino's help in recent months, IMA
is well on its way to becoming established in US saltwater
markets. "With the amount of promotion they are doing, IMA
will be successful here. We are starting to sell quite a bit in
Florida's saltwater market and now in California saltwater. IMA's
freshwater debut for US bass anglers will be coming soon, and
will be dynamite," says Matt Paino.
It's not enough to fish good in
Japan. You have to look cool doing it. A popular bass fishing
"look" in Japan is to dress like a rock star. Shown
here is the booth of micropterus, onebite onefishe, and snipeer -
successful clothing companies for bass fishing, and these famous
clothing company owners. Photo by Lure Magazine.
|"In Japan there is a lot
more bass fishing done from shore. People say that over 80% of
anglers fish from shore rather than from boats in Japan. One of
the reasons that Gary Yamamoto was so successful here was his
hefty salt-laden baits are so easy for the shore fisherman to use
weightless (which the Japanese call a "No-Sinker Rig")
and just cast it out and slowly drag it without snagging bottom.
That's also the reason why you see
so many excellent top water lures coming out of Japan - because
of the shore fishing and the need for something that doesn't run
too deep, so it won't snag underwater cover where a shore angler
can't get it back.
Besides the fact that the majority
of Japanese bass anglers are fishing from shore, the Japanese
love to watch their lures get blown up on. The Japanese mindset
is not just how many fish but they like to see just how creative
they can be to catch fish and how can they make their experience
more incredible. That's great excitement and thrilling
fishing." - Matt Paino