Business & Economy Science & Technology Education & Society Sports & Fashion Arts & Entertainment
Top Picks Back Numbers Search

Table Tennis Enjoying a Resurgence in Popularity

June 5, 2000

Two actors have a heated, acrobatic ping-pong match in this popular TV commercial, which is no longer aired. (Sapporo Breweries Ltd.)

Japan has not produced any world-class table-tennis players since the era spanning the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Since then Ping-Pong has been shunned by young people and relegated to the status of a minor sport. Recently, though, table tennis has been enjoying a resurgence in popularity. In trendy spots of Tokyo like Shibuya, it has become fashionable to go for a casual game after work or an evening of drinking.

Shibuya the Focus of Ping-Pong Revival
The most popular table-tennis hall in Shibuya is the Shibuya Ping-Pong Club, which recently has been the subject of coverage by television and other media. Nestled in a building near Shibuya station, the club had gone largely unnoticed since it opened five years ago. Beginning in 2000, however, its 15 tables have suddenly become so much in demand on weekend evenings that customers sometimes have to wait in line for their turn to play. Sales also exploded as a result--up 70% over the previous year.

On weekdays table rentals cost 600 yen (5.70 U.S. dollars at 105 yen to the dollar) for 30 minutes, or 700 yen (6.70 dollars) after 6 p.m. The club is open until 4 a.m., and there is no charge for use of racquets and balls. This affordability makes Ping-Pong an ideal way to while away some time while working up a little sweat. In addition to businessmen, players also include Shibuya's famous ganguro gyaru (dark-tanned teenage girls with loud makeup), who chase after balls clad in their stilt-like, thick-soled boots.

Variations on Ping-Pong
Shibuya is not the only area where young people are flocking to the tables. At the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward, Tokyo, a reservation is necessary for evening play on one of six tables. And a popular virtual table-tennis game can be found at many video-game centers, which, while essentially little more than an exercise in whacking Ping-Pong balls against targets on the facing wall, has been chalking up even better sales than the ever-popular music games since autumn 1999. Also enjoying new-found popularity are arcades and bowling alleys incorporating an area for table tennis.

What is behind this sudden table-tennis boom? Some have cited a recent television commercial for beer featuring popular actors involved in a heated table-tennis game as the origin of the sport's resurgence. Others point out that, while during the bubble economy table tennis was dismissed as a "game for the poor," in today's recession-hit Japan the concept of "honest poverty" has taken root, and people are viewing table tennis in a new light as a fun and inexpensive form of leisure.

The Changing Face of Table Tennis
While an increasing number of young people are stampeding to the Ping-Pong parlors, there has been no carry-over effect on the number of serious table-tennis competitors. Though the Japan Table Tennis Association says it has about 250,000 registered members, close to half of these are middle school students, and total membership has actually been on the decline. Sales of table-tennis equipment have likewise failed to benefit from this new-found grass-roots-level popularity.

Anxious to change this situation, the association has begun experimenting with more colorful uniforms and changing the color of Ping-Pong tables from dark green to bright blue as ways of giving the sport an image make over. The International Table Tennis Federation has also been taking steps to enhance the game: Beginning in October 2000, the diameter of the official ball will be increased by two millimeters, which will supposedly lead to longer rallies.

In keeping with the revival of the game in Japan, a Japanese athlete won a medal at the world table-tennis championships in March 2000 for the first time in 19 years. The possibility of holding a professional tournament in Japan is also being discussed. Could these be further signs of a table-tennis renaissance?

Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2000 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.