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Tokyo, Japan Pickleball & Cherry Blossom Report - part 1 of at least 3 (God willing!)

How to start a post about pickleball in Japan for a month…? Wow, wow, wow! Momentum is building. There are more pop ups happening than on a 2.5 court. Pickleball is showing up all over the country. Ky and I explored from Tokyo as far southwest as Osaka, leaving much to see in the rest of the country for a future trip.


Group of Asian pickleball players in Tokyo Japan with Bonnie Coffey and Ky Coffey
Kenton Stehr leads a fun group at the Yoyogi-no-Mori Fukugo Facility in Tokyo

Pickleball has been featured in the Japan Times, in other news posts and on TV, so awareness and increased locations for playing is happening quickly.


Over the month, we played on ten different sets of courts with ten ten different groups. In every place except one, we played with other people. On the one court where we played by ourselves, it hardly counts as playing due to the type of court. But more about that later.


I’ve had challenges in other countries finding the roots of pickleball, if it was being played there at all. In Japan however, the source is clear, and the booming interest in Japan is due in large part to Daniel Moore, and the people who he has taught to play. Daniel grew up in Japan and now lives in Nagano. He has also traveled to other parts of Asia, India, Singapore, Thailand, China and even Kenya. Look him up if you like to travel with a group, as he sets up tours. Check out his website at https://pickleballtrips.com/ if you are interested in booking a tour.


Daniel is like a one man band who is inspiring an entire symphony. Unfortunately Ky and I didn’t have the opportunity to cross paths with him this time, but hopefully we will again in the future. He is a great instructor and our lesson in Park City with him last year was fantastic.


Daniel Moore led a pickleball clinic in Park City, Utah
Pickleball Clinic with Daniel Moore in Park City, Utah

One of the biggest hurdles for people wanting to set up new places and start new groups is that places where people can play are limited by space constraints. Most pickleball is currently played indoors in beautiful large community centers. Since many sports use these courts, prime times when people are available are in high demand. In our experience, groups typically consist of 12 to 20 players. They rent space on badminton courts that have painted lines on wooden multi-purpose courts. This is very similar to what many US based clubs use in the winter, and if you got your start in Arizona, you know about those same courts for summer use.


An indoor pickleball court with many lines for other sports
A typical community center with multi-use markings


The lighting, the many different painted lines, and in one case the multi-colored boards on the floor can make seeing the ball very difficult. To look for the silver lining, it encourages, and even requires, keeping eyes on the ball to a greater degree. It does however favor younger eyes than Ky and I have.


In a couple of other places we played on hard outdoor tennis courts, but one court in particular was carpet with sand. Those have been phased out in the US due to injury concern and to try and capture a larger casual audience. Carpet is definitely not a good surface on which to play pickleball as there is not enough bounce and the ball skids quite badly. We had some fun and laughed giving it a try though. We even played a “game”, so we’re counting it on our spreadsheet as a court played!


One very big difference in Japanese pickleball is the average age of the players. The majority are very young, in the 20 - 30 age range from our experience. Most players have backgrounds in sports like tennis, badminton and ping pong, so the sport is very easy for them to pick up. They progress very quickly, and those young fast legs are just so darn fast!


We started off in Tokyo. There are many other groups organizing and playing in Tokyo, but due to a limited four days there, we unfortunately only played with one group. Public transportation in Tokyo is fast and efficient. Some of the preferred areas of town to stay if you’re looking for pickleball are Shibuya, Shinjuku or Minato. They are centrally located, you can easily get transportation to anywhere in Japan with easy, fast train service all over the city and country. We took several bullet trains, and they were incredible. They are so much easier and faster than driving, and they rival flying for many destinations.


A conductor on a bullet train platform with Mt. Fuji in the backgrount
A bullet train at a station with cherry blossoms and Mt. Fuji in the background


In Tokyo, right off the paddle, (it’s a paddle, not a bat!) I found a fellow Aggie in Tokyo! Whoop! Kenton Stehr went to my alma mater, Texas A&M, quite a few years after I did. He was born in Japan and moved to the US when he was a young boy. He graduated with a BBA Management and an MS in Finance. He returned to Japan to live, so he has a unique set of qualifications to ramp up pickleball even more.


Bonnie Coffey and Kenton Stehr with thumbs up for Gig 'Em in Tokyo
Bonnie & Kenton Stehr (fellow Aggies) in Tokyo


Kenton has organized groups and times to play, so you can reach out to him if you are visiting Tokyo. He will give you all the info you need on when and where to play. You can also find him on Facebook. He has a website called PickleTokyo.com. It is easy to translate it in to English, at least on a laptop. It's a great resource for finding the places to play all over Japan.


We were very fortunate to arrive just at the peak time for sakura, cherry blossoms. Tokyo was filled with tourists like us who came to see the delicate flowers in full bloom. They are nature's fleeting masterpiece since they typically last for only about one to two weeks once they reach full bloom.


Walking along the Maguro River is somewhat like being spun up in cotton candy. Pink or white blossoms are above and around you, and when the delicate leaves fall to the ground there is pink everywhere. Japanese people are so kind and polite and orderly that despite it being a very popular time to go, it never seemed too overcrowded.


Sunny day on bridge with lots of cherry blossoms. Photographer Bonnie Coffey
A perfect day for seeing cherry blossoms along the Meguro River


A cute little Japanese girl in school uniform enjoying the cherry blossoms
The cutest little school girl out with her mom enjoying the cherry blossoms

Another highlight of our time in Tokyo was connecting with our friends, Kathy and Greg Leitzke. We recently spent time with them in Mexico, and only found out then that they would be overlapping with us on our Japan trip dates. I love it when things like that work out. We did a hanami under the cherry blossoms and had lots of fun dining experiences with them.


Ky and Bonnie Coffey with Kathy & Greg Leitzke  under the Tokyo Tower with cherry blossoms glowing in the dark
Ky and Bonnie with Kathy & Greg under the Tokyo Tower at night

Ky and Bonnie Coffy with Kathy & Greg Leitzke having a hanami picnic under cherry blossoms
Ky and Bonnie with Kathy & Greg enjoying Hanami (picnic)

My next post will be about other areas in Japan where we played. And my third post will be about an amazing opportunity we had in Okinawa that could change the face of pickleball in Japan extremely quickly. Like and follow https://www.facebook.com/Coffeys2GoPB if you don’t want to miss seeing them.


Hugs from Japan!


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Coffeys2Go loved Japan, playing pickleball, and the cherry blossom festival!



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