By Tsukuru Ikeda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer For avid skiers and snowboarders, Tokyo’s Kanda district offers excellent shopping conditions. It is a sporting goods district with little parallel anywhere in the world — about 50 specialty stores operating in an area with a 500-meter radius.
When ski season is at its peak, the area is full of people searching for skis, snowboards and boots. But how did Kanda wind up as the epicenter for sporting goods?
When I exited JR Ochanomizu Station one day in winter, I found myself among large crowds of young people. The area is dotted with the campuses of Meiji University, Nihon University and other schools. As I walked toward the Jinbocho intersection, I noticed rows of shops specializing not just in skis and snowboards but also sportswear and boots. I decided to stop by a store called Wangel that had a sign out front advertising a sale on ski poles.
Founded in 1959, the store advertises its ski tune-up service as its main selling point — it spends two weeks polishing the bottoms and edges of a customer’s skis to return them to tiptop condition.
“Just like knives, skis become useless if you don’t polish them regularly,” said Noriaki Yoneda, 43, the company’s representative director.
Yoneda said that lately he feels he has seen more customers in their 50s and 60s — people who became engrossed in skiing when they were young and now have more time on their hands after raising kids. He added that “backcountry” skis, which are wider to make them more suited to gliding on natural mountain snow, have been popular of late.
However, he cautions that despite the large number of skis and boots available, only a few items will match any particular person. He makes sure to ask customers about their level of experience and suggests gear tailored to their needs. “I’m kind of like a matchmaker between people and skis,” he joked.
Shops for students
So how did Kanda become a hub for sporting goods stores?
“It has to do with the large number of secondhand shops catering to students that originally existed in this area,” said Mikio Kadoya, 60, the manager of sports shop V3 Kadoya along the Yasukuni-dori street.
Sporting goods stores began to emerge in Kanda in the booming years from 1955 to 64, according to Kadoya, who also chairs an association of local sports shops.
He said that the decade witnessed an ice skating boom that was soon followed by a craze for all things skiing sparked by the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympics. Secondhand shops that stocked used musical instruments and other items purchased from students — much like today’s “recycle shops” — began to deal in ski equipment, and some eventually became specialty sports shops.
Big sporting goods stores began opening next, and at the peak of the district’s popularity in the 1990s, there were 80 shops crowded into what had become a burgeoning sporting goods district, he said.
Kadoya’s shop, which opened in 1957, was also once a secondhand shop that focused mainly on musical instruments and baseball gear. However, the store began carrying more sports gear around 1970, ahead of the Sapporo Olympics, and now specializes mainly in ski and snowboarding boots and in-line skates.
Skiing’s ups and downs
Sparked by the 1987 movie “Watashi o Skii ni Tsuretette” (Take Me Out to the Snowland), starring Tomoyo Harada, the late 1980s and early 1990s saw the popularity of skiing reach new heights. The boom began to subside after the economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, but skiing has enjoyed periodic resurgences in popularity ever since, including around the time of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics.
With each wave of popularity, large numbers of young people converge on the shopping district in Kanda.
In recent years, ski resorts have been striving to become more family-oriented through such means as adding areas for sledding and playing in the snow. Japan’s ski culture is also becoming more diverse, with more foreigners hitting the slopes to try out the country’s unique powder snow, or “Japow.”
“Japan has some of the best quality snow in the world,” said Kadoya. “Since your level of enjoyment while skiing is largely determined by the type of equipment you’re using, the sporting goods district in Kanda wants to continue to help people have fun with winter sports.”Speech