Snowboarding Growth Strong In Japan

Participation is up 87 percent in the last three years.

We contacted Tatsuro Higashi, the managing editor of TransWorld SNOWboarding Japan, for the inside scoop on the health and growth of the Japanese Market. A.Z. Kodama handled the translation.

How many people are snowboarding in Japan and is that number up or down?Currently, by most estimates there are 1.5-million snowboarders in Japan. In the last three years snowboarding participation has grown 87 percent.

In ’96/97 it was estimated that there were only 800,000 snowboarders. By the next season, that number had grown 43 percent to 1,150,000 snowboarders.

However, participation is expected to dip by 400,000 riders during the ’99/00 season as Nagano Olympic fever diminishes.

Kenji Masuno, a journalist at Sports Industry News Japan, points out that while snowboarding culture has already made a big impact among those riders in their twenties or younger, the lifestyle elements have had less of an affect with the over-30 crowd. Masuno also anticipates that the snowboard culture is in danger of being diluted by new on-slope trends such as ski blades and short skis.

How many resorts now allow snowboarding in Japan? What percentage do snowboarders make up of the total resort visitors?There are approximately 700 resorts in Japan. Eighty percent (approximately 560 resorts) allow snowboarding. In comparison, only 60 percent of the resorts allowed snowboarding before the Nagano Olympic Games.

Several prominent resorts announced that they will allow snowboarding this year, and we’ve been watching with interest the protests American snowboarders are making to get the remaining non-snowboarding resorts in the United States to change their policies. The protests where hundreds of American snowboarders gathered around the house of a resort owner, carrying banners, made me think that the snowboarders in Japan need to stick our necks out more and get things to change. I love the American rider’s good sense of humor and their esprit de corps.

And the resorts have a good reason to allow snowboarding. According to a ’96/97 Sport Industrial News survey, snowboarders accounted for fifteen percent of resort visits, while another 25 percent of guests both ski and snowboard. We’re still seeing good growth in this area. This year’s survey shows that 25 percent of resort guests are strictly snowboarders, and twenty percent both ski and snowboard. It’s clear that snowboarding has gained more power in the past few years and is certainly making solid progress in Japan.

How many specialty snowboard shops are there in Japan? How many different chain stores are there, and what are the four biggest?

There are approximately 700 year-round snowboard specialty stores in Japan. However, many stores expand their product selection during the winter to include snowboarding. If you take these stores into account, there are probably closer to 1,500 shops–including chain stores–carrying snowboarding product.

Snowboarding also has a big presence in chain stores. The largest chain of stores that carry snowboarding product is Alpen (400 stores), followed by Victoria (160 stores), Zebio (70 stores), Minami (65 stores), and Himalaya (50 stores). These are the top five stores in Japan in terms of snowboard sales volume. Each company has its own unique strategy and product mix, however almost 30 percent of the total goods displayed in each of these chain stores are related to snowboarding.

What are the number of boards, boots, and bindings sold in Japan, and which are the top-three brands for each category? The overall sales of snowboarding goods–except step-ins–started to decline after the peak of ’96/97.

Approximately 900,000 boards were sold during the ’96/97 season. This number dipped too 800,000 in ’97/98, and continued to slide to 750,000 boards in ’98/99. Projected numbers for the upcoming season haven’t been reported yet. However, if the market continues in this trendline we can expect that 600,000 or even 500,000 boards will be sold this season.

As for the boot market in Japan, it was estimated that one-million pairs of snowboard boots were sold during the ’96/97 season. This number dipped slightly to 950,000 pair during the ’97/98 season, and continued down to 850,000 pairs during ’98/99.

However, for this upcoming season the boot market seems saturated by an increase in the number of boots sold to retailers–including step-ins.

The story is much the same in the binding market. In ’96/97 900,000 bindings were sold. This number dipped to 800,000 in ’97/98 and 700,000 bindings last season.

When step-ins entered the market three to four years ago, sales in this category quickly became twenty percent of the entire binding market. This was driven by convenience. However, it seems that binding sales have already hit their peak in Japan, and the step-in portion of the overall binding market has dipped to ten percent. It appears that retailers have become extremely cautious about carrying step-ins.

In order, the top brands in Japan are as follows:

Snowboards: Burton, Salomon, K2, Sims.

Boots: Burton, Northwave, Airwalk, Vans.

Conventional Bindings: Burton, Ride (Preston), Sims, Flux.

Step-Ins Bindings: Clicker, Kissmark (also Clickers), Burton, Switch.

Kissmark is a brand designed and carried by the Alpen chain stores. Burton is carried by the majority of specialty stores in Japan and remains the undisputed number-one brand. Generally, there have been remarkably few changes in the top brands in the last three years.