Marketing from Heaven

Tenkara Marketing

Over the last few years, I’ve read some pretty harsh criticism on the marketing of Tenkara. I find this curious because all of us are surrounded by marketing in nearly every aspect of our everyday lives, yet those same critics don’t seem to complain about it (at least not with the same vehemence).

We’re pummeled with billboards as we drive along in our cars, then flanked by ad after ad as we walk through the airport, and even solicited by the backs of our tray tables once we sit down on the plane.

We’re interrupted by obnoxious commercials whose volume is intentionally cranked up to be louder than the TV shows we’re watching.

We’re texted, emailed, and called with all kinds of irrelevant, disruptive marketing all the time.

To me, this type of marketing is insidious and doesn’t even compare to the marketing I’ve seen done by any of the Tenkara companies. By comparison, Tenkara marketing is tame. It has been relevant, permission based, and human–everything good marketing should be. So I have to wonder why there has been so much disdain for the marketing of Tenkara?

Ironically, the same people who complain about it do so on social media platforms like Facebook that are mining their personal data for advertisers. I highly doubt Tenkara USA or Tenkara Bum are doing any evil data mining, selling your private information to advertisers, or hatching some sinister Tenkara marketing campaign.

As someone who has done marketing for a living for over seven years, I think what I’ve seen in the Tenkara world is generally much more authentic, tasteful, and intelligent than most of the marketing I see in my professional life.

And let’s not forget that Tenkara gear companies are businesses. Without marketing a business can’t survive or reinvest their profits to develop new gear. What innovative new tackle would we miss out on if the Tenkara companies didn’t market and grow their businesses?

Personally, I’m grateful for the marketing of Tenkara. Without it, I never would have heard about Tenkara, wouldn’t have discovered my lifelong passion, and wouldn’t have this blog. In fact, you wouldn’t be reading this post or be leaving the authentic, tasteful, and intelligent comment you’re about to leave below. :)

Author: Jason Klass

Jason is an avid fly angler and backpacker. As a former fly fishing guide originally from Western New York, he moved to Colorado and became an early adopter of tenkara which perfectly suited the small, high altitude streams and lakes there. He has not fished a Western-style fly rod for trout since.

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  1. I’m an occasional tenkara fisherman and newbie. I’m sure I’m not aware of all the inside baseball. I have noticed some turf wars within the online tenkara bubble though. I find that more off-putting than marketing to the reeled masses.

  2. What I find strange is that for some reason there seems to be an abnormally high percentage of tenkara fans that seem to think that working hard to make a living from manufacturing or selling tenkara rods/accessories, guiding, or anything tenkara related is somehow evil and despicable. Fact is if the tenkara based business can’t make enough money to earn a living, tenkara will vanish from America.

    If you have a problem with these companies advertising, promoting, and marketing their products and services, find a new hobby or passion that someone else will pour their own money, blood, sweat, and tears into with no hope of earning any of that back just so you can have all the fun from somebody else’s hard work. This is not a socialism based enterprise. Daniel, Chris, and all the others that are working very hard so you can go out and have fun deserve to make a decent living.

  3. Couldn’t agree more John!

  4. In every sport there are purist that don’t want things to change including, marketing and new innovations. They consider it selling out. It’s human nature to tinker with and find ways to improve things, so even with the marketing and promoting of Tenkara there will always be a place for both. Let’s just hope no one comes out and promotes a Bass tournament legal tenkara rod. :)

  5. Jason,
    Maybe you’re right, there isn’t a problem with the marketing of tenkara per se. But there is an issue with the language used among the “tenkara-cognoscenti.” Tenkara is a method, a way to go fishing; it is not any one specific rod, fly, line, etc. By creating ambiguity between the method and the gear, some purveyors (deliberately or otherwise) draw attention to the products they are trying to sell. They are in effect saying that if you’re not using our rod (or our flies, or our line, net…), you’re not tenkara fishing. I agree, there is nothing inherently wrong with this (we all gotta make a living…), but it does make it confusing for a lot of people out there to clearly understand what tenkara is about (I’ve actually been asked on more than one occasion: “Is it a company or is it a kind of fishing?”). And clearly based on recent contentions, it’s alienating some people who once enjoyed – or might even come to enjoy – tenkara. To my eyes, there does seem to be a “party line” that many people have literally bought into about tenkara. Personally, I’d like to hear more about how others are fishing tenkara, and less about what I should be fishing it with. Offer your products. Market them accordingly. But I’ll decide for myself if I should be using them, thankyouverymuch. Thanks for an interesting post.

  6. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any kind of tenkara advertisement. I stumbled upon it accidentally a couple years back, then i recognized the word “tenkara” in the title of a book at the library this past october. I checked it out and learned a whole lot out of it. I’m yet to take up tenkara fishing, but I can’t wait to try my hand at it.

  7. Huh… I don’t get it either. I get all kinds of Emails from the likes of Orvis, Bass Pro Shops, and Cabela’s. I’ve made purchases from three different online tenkara dealers and haven’t had one Email blast from any of them.

    I first heard of tenkara from a WFN-TV show about fly-fishing a restored trib of the Madison in Montana late in 2010. I was immediately interested because I was coming off an injury which had resulted in reduced range of motion in my right shoulder and unable to properly cast a regular fly rod. That and I was drawn to it’s simplicity.

    Luckily, I managed to get the spelling right the first time I Googled tenkara. From then on I searched for anything I could find about the method. At no time did I think the advertising was anywhere near any sort of pressure. All I ever perceived about the those companies selling tenkara rods was that they provided much needed information to the consumer about the sport.

  8. Jason, you are correct to a degree. Tenkara has been marketed in the USA as an alternative to “western style” fly fishing. I must include a caveat here. I have been on several waters from here to Canada and back in the passed few years, in your beautiful State several times and the one drawback that I have heard from several different anglers that I have met and talked to at different times while fishing is this: I went to the sites you told me and there was no information on how to use Tenkara with my flies (western style). In order to not piss anyone off here more than normal there is one that has incorporated this into Tenkara but I will not name it. In the end I just have to demo on the water with my western style “match the hatch” flies. I have various Tenkara rods from different manufacturers in my quiver while fishing since the water I fish on locally goes from swift and narrow with lots of overhang to slow and wide but includes several down slope rapids in between within a few miles walking distance. What I am trying to say is this. For some reason Tenkara style fly fishing is leaving a lot of people out by not saying in some form or fashion that yes you can use your bwo size 26 fly during the winter months, a beetle or hopper in the summer or you could try a size 12 Ishigaki Kebari as marketed on Tenkara USA. I have heard more than once, that is not for me since you have to use a “Tenkara style fly” and not what I have in my box. All the while I am fishing with either or and they know it right there on the water. In my opinion, the major players in Tenkara marketing are missing the market/strategy in conversion by dismissing those who would and do each day “match the hatch” I have heard these words several times. I searched what you told me, by they seem sort of obstinate that I should use Tenkara fly patterns instead of what I have or tied. Do a search of Tenkara using western flies, there is not so much results… so people I talk to about it are sort of put off sos ta speak. Even though I have at least or better results standing by them while fishing. In my opinion once again, Tenkara marketing will hit a wall unless the players market as use Tenkara with what you have in your box. I know that the presentation is different, but I am just a fisherman who converted on my own with either style fly. On the water it is harder to convince. I hope that I do not piss anyone off by my comments, but that is the feedback that I see over and over. Do a search using a Tenkara rod with western style flies. If the market/strategy for bringing Tenkara to the masses without this “interpretation” is the strategy then “missing the boat” is what will happen.

  9. Not everyone in the tenkara industry is excluding the idea of using western flies or match the hatch methods.
    Look here:

    The list above is just the tip of the iceberg. Look at the links Jason has on the right side of this page. Lots more information on western flies and tenkara in there.

    What we have is the largest tenkara company outside of Japan that has an emphasis on showing an teaching traditional tenkara techniques as it is currently practiced in Japan. Nothing wrong with that. There are some great new resources out there working constantly on using western flies and tenkara methods together and sharing what is being learned.

    Some people really want to delve deep into the traditions and methods of tenkara as it is practiced in Japan while some people really don’t care much about that aspect. It is tenkara the tool or tenkara the method.

    Some tenkara companies will market their products as the tool while others will market their products as part of the method. Nothing wrong with either approach.

    As a co-owner of a professional tenkara guide company, in order to have the greatest degree of business success, we decided that we should have the ability and knowledge to appeal to both groups.

    When you book a trip with us, the first thing we discuss with you is what kind of tenkara experience you are looking for. Traditional kebari techniques or euro-nymphing, dry fly, etc. Some tenkara businesses like ours have the luxury of being able to walk both paths.

  10. I found Tenkara through an Interview w/ Danial on one of the Orvis podcasts. I found the podcast to be about the excitement of the unique style, not about selling it to the public. I believe the style of Tenkara addresses the true needs in fisherman to embark in a more intimate relationship with the fishing experience. I plan on promoting the style personally regardless of any companies marketing thrust. I am thankful for its introduction into North America. It’s valid style outdates other types of fishing techniques. Other fishing style companies are just jealous of not promoting it first. Too bad for them. Fish on Tenkara brothers and sisters. Enjoy the Zen of Tenkara. Less hassle(w/ gear) more fishing…..

  11. Who’s been complaining about the marketing? Everything I’ve seen has been great. Plus, it does what it should :leaves me wanting more!

  12. I have been critical of tenkara marketing for negativity towards fly fishing, I want to know what a product is, not what the seller thinks its better than. I also dislike the old “that’s not a tenkara rod” crap that’s banded about.

  13. John, you made my point exactly. Marketing Tenkara in the USA is what the market will bear. Nothing more or less. If a person chooses to use a size 26 bwo or a Sakasa Kebari should not be an object of discrimination. Style is their own.

  14. What works great is a 2 fly rig of the 26 bwo and the size 12 kebari!
    Wonder what would happen if you shave half of the cork grip off your rod, use the above mentioned 2 fly rig, and presto, you have covered every base in the tenkara world.

    Sometimes we all take this stuff way too seriously.

  15. I was having such a good time fishing tenkara until I read this blog….I never realized that I needed a tenkara style fly. Luckily the fish didn’t realize it either,but now I am sadly returning to the fly rod and reel. Damn you tenkara!

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