The rise, fall, and comeback of Japan's batting cages

Kevin Vega, from Kadena Air Base, swings at a fastball at Chatan Sports Center. Photo by Shoji Kudaka
Kevin Vega, from Kadena Air Base, swings at a fastball at Chatan Sports Center. Photo by Shoji Kudaka

The rise, fall, and comeback of Japan's batting cages

by Shoji Kudaka
Stripes Okinawa

In 2011, Kitashirakawa Batting Center in Kyoto, was closed for good, calling an end to its more than four decades of batting cage glory. It was a very popular spot when I was a college student about 20 years ago. When Fridays came around, the place was packed with people looking to relieve stress by taking cuts at 90 mph fastballs, or young couples flirting over 60 mph balls before moving onto other amusement available at the same location.

Batting cages may be an amusement whose heyday has long passed. According to Weekly Playboy, a Japanese magazine unrelated to the American magazine of the same name, the first batting cage debuted in Tokyo in 1965, and was followed by many other facilities in the late 60s and 70s. According to the report, the popularity of the amusement held in the 80s, leading to the launch of a ground breaking system in the 90s which made it possible to throw various pitches including breaking balls by using two rotatable discs. In the early 2000s, many of these facilities closed. Declines in birth rate and popularity of baseball, or increase of diversity in amusement were cited as the reasons for the downfall. 

The closure of the batting cage in Kyoto, which opened in 1970, would attest to the rise and fall of the amusement.

“The popularity of batting cage was at the highest when our company started, back in 1966. I would assume now they are down to about 700,” Mr. Yamamoto of Kinki Kresco, a long-established maker of batting cage equipment says.

It’s hard to track the precise number of batting cages, as they are not officially registered, but the decline looks evident. Weekly Playboy quoted a survey that indicated there were 541 batting cages in Japan as of 2014, showing a decrease of 269 from 2001. However, it is still too early to say that the batting cage is dead, as it has been making somewhat of a comeback in the Japanese pop-culture scene lately.

Masashi Yoshioka, a famous batting cage enthusiast who has visited more than 800 batting cages in Japan, was recently featured in several TV and radio shows, talking about the rise of unique batting cages; ones where you can swing at 142 mph fastballs, or earn prize money for home runs, or even practice fielding.

Plus, in a TV show called “Real Yakyu Ban (Real Baseball Pinball),” a pitching machine was used to let professional players virtually face a pitcher on a monitor controlled by TV talents. The way the pros were fooled by the virtual pitcher drew much attention and contributed to the popularity of the show. Nikkan Sports, a Japanese sports journal, reported in November of 2015 that then Manager Yoshinobu Takahashi of the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, decided to introduce the machine to the team’s training, as he was impressed with the quality and variety of the pitches it can throw. According to Mr. Yamamoto of Kinki Cresco, the maker of the system, the virtual pitching machine is now a very popular system at batting cages in Japan.   

Here on Okinawa, there are several batting cages facilities still running. Although they may not provide fastballs with ridiculous velocities, some of them have unique features. There is a batting cage facility that introduced a “strikeout game” to let customers try their skills of locating pitches by throwing at targets in the strike zone. Others host home run competitions where you can earn gift cards.

Even though some of them look retro, like the now-closed amusement complex in Kyoto, batting cages continue to stay relevant on this southern island.

Where to take your cuts on Okinawa


• GPS Coordinates: N 26.324864, E 127.763463 (South of Kadena Air Base)

• Hours: 8 a.m. – 11 p.m.

• Tel: (098) 936-7011


• Notes: A sports complex. 30 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 80 to 140 kmph (approx. 50 to 87 mph.)


• GPS Coordinates: N 26.236235, E 127.684055

• Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.


• Notes: An amusement complex with pool tables, video games, darts, ping-pong. Velocity ranges from 70 – 145kmph (approx. 43 to 90 mph). 10 plates. 20 pitches for 200 yen. Home run competitions take place periodically.


• GPS Coordinates: N 26.275824, E 127.731014

• Hours: (10 a.m. – 6 a.m. (subject to change)


• Tel: 098-870-2110

• Notes: There are batting cages as part of Spo-cha service. 90 minutes for 2,590 yen (2,790 yen on Sat. Sun. holidays)


• GPS Coordinates: N 26.20808, E 127.72836

• Hours: 1 – 10 p.m. (weekdays), 9 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Sat, Sun, and holidays)


• Notes: An amusement/sports complex with skate rink, bowling alley, ping-pong etc. 200 yen for 25 pitches. Velocity ranges from 70 – 140 kmph (approx. 43 – 87 mph). 10 plates

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