Kyoko just became the first woman to win the top prize in a traditionally male sport. A brooding former champion regrets these changing times and will make up for them by training a former footballer and a playboy. But the lads will meet their match as they take on school-finished chicks and stoic cat lovers.
welcome to season two i am a rower: A long-running soap-opera-style ad campaign for Japanese powerboat racing, whose first season was a huge success during the pandemic, creating a new generation of rowing-obsessed gamblers.
But can the 2023 campaign work the same magic on a country that may finally take off its masks?drama i am a rowerthough fictional, centers on a very real sport that is one of the few in Japan where gambling is legal — other sports include horse racing, auto racing and unicycle racing.
All four sports have grown significantly over the past three years, mainly through online portals, in terms of gaming revenue and punter numbers. Some analysts attribute the growth to the pervasive (but likely temporary) entertainment-hungry “nest-building” dynamics Japanese households have fallen into during the pandemic. Others suspect that boating (along with less glamorous activities such as horse racing and cycling) has more permanently changed attitudes toward gambling in the country.
Gambling on bicycles, boats and horses has been rising steadily but modestly since 2013 before surging decisively at the onset of the pandemic, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Tertiary Sector Activity Index. The index covering all four sports is up more than 60% since March 2020. The index for rowing alone has risen 134% over the same period. The expansion stands out amid generally contracting industry figures — most recently because of the coronavirus pandemic, but fundamentally because of Japan’s shrinking and aging population.
Tokyo Shoko Research released a report last May tracking the performance of seven rowing companies across the country and found that their collective sales rose by more than 50% from the September-October 2018/19 period to 2020/2021. year-on-year level.
However, a key factor in all types of Japanese sports betting is the development of easy-to-use, low-stakes gambling apps and software that allow people to watch games in high definition on their phones throughout the day. The horse racing industry is a pioneer in this regard. Even before Covid, one of the most popular apps collated footage from multiple tracks across the country to create a situation where, at any given point in the workday, the Japanese workforce could be surreptitiously Place a minimum bet of ¥100 on an upcoming game. The rowing industry replicated this, but with far more lucrative advertising.
Both industries point to a broader shift in how entertainment is consumed, as competition for eyeballs intensifies and attention spans shrink. For decades, Japan’s unofficial gambling giant has been the vertical pinball game pachinko. To reap the rewards, players have to put in a lot of time; fewer Japanese are ready to invest, which is why the game’s 2020 revenue is about half of its 27 trillion yen ($207 billion) level in 2006.
Live audiences for horse racing and rowing have similarly declined over the years. But watching an adrenaline-fueled three-minute spectacle over the phone during the occasional coffee break is a whole different proposition. Working from home and “nesting” have effectively broken coffee into a permanent state.
But what happens next? Japan has not recovered from the pandemic as quickly as some predicted. Bars, restaurants, and more or less everything else covered in METI’s tertiary service index are back to normal in theory, but most of them are at subdued levels. People seem to be choosing to nest, even though the restrictions are gone. One theory, though, is that the government’s continued recommendation that people wear masks indoors had a major impact, a lightweight grindstone that shattered their ability to fully enjoy their former pastimes.
On Friday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida paved the way for the removal of the recommendation to wear masks this spring. Many Japanese will continue to wear them, but a subconscious shift may come quickly. For the rowing industry and its star-studded ad campaign, the big bet is whether it will continue.