I don’t consider myself a sports fanatic. Well, except for skiing anyway…
Before I wrote this article, I honestly couldn’t name even one Japanese sports brand. I have, however, heard of a fair few of them but not realised their connection to Japan.
What makes Japanese sports brands special?
One thing all these companies have in common is continuous innovation. They’ve realised that they must keep adapting to stay at the top of the pack. And though the majority of this innovation may have happened in the 80s, many of the companies continue to push the boundaries of their respective fields.
Known For: Running Shoes
I would argue that if you haven’t heard of Asics, you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most well known brand out of any of them on this list.
Asics is a Japanese sports brand that produces a huge range of sports equipment, most notably running shoes.
The name ‘Asics’ translates to ‘Sound mind in sounds body’, so it’s clear that health is always at forefront of their creation.
Created by Kihachiro Onitsuka in 1949, Asics actually began life as Onitsuka Co., Ltd creating basketball shoes. Whilst the company does still sell these shoes, the market for running trainers is a far more profitable path for the company to go down.
I can’t say how recent it was, but the Asics website now has an entire section devoted to sustainability.
I’m sure you know that some companies probably just jump on the band wagon of ‘Eco’ or ‘Sustainable’ because it’s the trendy thing to do, but Asics have some real numbers to back it up.
95% of the shoes it made in 2021 contained recycled materials and also donated over half a million dollars to communities.
Sure, it doesn’t mean the entire product is made from recycled materials or life changing sums of money are being donated, but it’s a fantastic step in the right direction for the healthy and positive future everyone wants to see.
A great reason to buy from Asics!
Known For: Running Shoes
Founded in 1906 in Osaka, Mizuno, then known as the Mizuno Brothers Commercial Firm, began life selling baseballs and western sundries.
A favoured saying on its creator ‘Rihachi Mizuno’ was “The best products for consumers” and looking at where the company is today it’s easy to see this is a motto the company have stuck to for decades.
Rihachi also stated that ‘By focusing on production, superior products can be made’. This is again something the company still adheres to over 100 Years in the future which enables them to continue producing high quality and desirable products.
1938 marks a particular date of importance for the company, the establishment of a scientific laboratory. This was done to once again aid production and also cemented Mizuno’s place at the forefront of scientific innovation for sports equipment.
You don’t need to look too far into the companies history to understand just how revolutionary they were for sports.
In 1990 they produced the worlds first ever pure titanium golf club, the Ti-110 and Ti-120, and in 1994 released a heat generating material called ‘Breath Thermo’.
Fast forward to the present day, and Mizuno continue to operate at the same level.
Their product line favours sporting shoes, presumably in an attempt to appeal to the widest demographic of people, but the range of sports they release products for is still very broad.
They include Ju-Jitsu, tennis, rugby, and Karate among others.
So chances are, if you’re looking to purchase sporting equipment or clothing, they’ll have you covered.
Known For: Cycling and fishing gear
If you’ve ever ridden a bike, you’ve heard of Shimano.
This Japanese sports company began life as ‘Shimano Iron Works’, based out of Higashi Minato, Sakai City. According to the Shimano website, rent at that time was 5 Yen.
1 Yen in 1920’s Japan was worth roughly 50cents, making rent at that time about $2.50. Calculating inflation for just under 100 years, Shimano Iron Works paid roughly $35 a month.
One year later, Shozaburo Shimano, the creator of Shimano began producing bicycle freewheels, an extremely technical component.
Over the next few decades, the company continues to innovate and in 1970 launches a fishing tackle branch as a way to promote public health and encourage outdoor activity.
Shimano expanded it’s brand into America to crack the Western market, and continues to be a globally recognised company to their very day.
Part of their mission statement reads: ‘We will continue to support people to realise their dreams to create new lifestyles to bring them closer to nature and share the joy of life with each other’. It’s clear to see the company cares about connecting people with the outdoors and with nature as well as creating technically challenging products.
It seems in more recent years they have pushed the cycling components and gear far more than the fishing which I imagine is due to the larger demographic.
Known For: Badminton, Tennis, and Golf Equipment
Yonex is a Japanese sports brand that is widely known for its high quality Badminton equipment.
This wasn’t the companies first products, however.
It might surprise you to know that in 1946, the year Minoru Yoneyama founded Yonex, he began producing wooden corks for sake bottles and also floats for salmon fishing.
It wasn’t until another 11 years went by that the production of Badminton racquets started. By focusing on this western sport, the revenue of Yonex began to grow exponentially.
According to the history page on Yonex.co.jp, another reason Minoru decided to focus on producing Badminton racquets was because he grew up in a cold part of Japan and wanted to start making products where people could play the sport indoors.
Though Badminton is the sport that brought Yonex global recognition, they also have very successful tennis, golf, running, and even snowboarding product lines.
I’m unsure if Yonex would be the first place I’d check for a new snowboard, but with it’s innovative product creating history, it’s certainly not something to be written off entirely.
Known For: High Tech sports equipment
From a company that dipped its feet in the world of skiing, to one that practically invented it.
Descente started its sportswear production with cream-colored baseball Uniforms in 1953 and capitalised on the Post-War Baseball boom as a result.
Following this success, Descente broke into the skiwear market shortly after in 1954, potentially changing it’s landscape forever.
After partnering with Japan’s first professional skier, Kazuyoshi Nishimura, Descente firmly established it’s roots as a ski brand.
Fast forward 3 years to 1957 and the announcement of the ‘RWSB Jacket’. It was a portable windbreaker that could be self contained in a pouch, and was also Descente’s first self developed and made product.
The rest is history.
From self heating Jackets to clothing for Japan’s first ascent of Everest, Descente certainly knows how to keep people warm and dry from the snow.
And we all know how much Japan can snow!
‘Design that moves’
On first visit to the Descente website, I get the feeling they’re trying to appeal to a younger generation. Potentially an entire different audience than some of the other Japanese sports brands on this list.
They sell a lifestyle before they sell the product, and that’s the kind of marketing a lot of people can get behind.
Known For: Table Tennis Equipment
Last but definitely not least on this list of Japanese sporting brands is ‘Butterfly’.
Known almost entirely for it’s production of table tennis equipment, ‘Butterfly’ specialises in creating a wide variety of table tennis equipment to suite an individuals playing style. This individuality helped them stand out from the competition in the early days, and continues token them as one of the worlds leading sports equipment manufacturers.
Once again, like many companies on this list, the secret to Butterfly’s success is through innovation. The greatest success of the company in it’s early days was in 1967 with the introduction of SRIVER, an extremely popular rubber (The skin on a table tennis bat’s face).
According to it’s about page, table tennis is a sport in decline but through, contribution to the sport, continued innovation, and forward thinking, Butterfly aims to stop this downward trend.