The rise, fall & comeback of batting cages in Japan

Travel
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 & comeback of batting cages in Japan

by: Shoji Kudaka | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: August 18, 2017
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 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 about 10 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 many 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:
 
Chatan Sports Center 
• Address: 432 Kuwae, Chatan town, Okinawa 901-0103 (south of Kadena Air Base)
• Hours: 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Open except New Year holiday) 
• Tel: 098-936-7011
• Notes: A sports complex. 30 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 80 to 140 km (approx. 50 to 87 mph). 7 plates.
 
Koza Baseball Center
• Address: 6-4-2 Goya, Okinawa city, Okinawa (10 minute drive away from Gate 2 of Kadena Air Base. Near Okinawa Zoo & Museum.) 
• Hours: 8 a.m. – 0 a.m. (open 7 days a week)
• Notes: A small batting cage adjacent to a golf range. According to an on-site staff, Americans come occasionally. 30 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 80 to 125 kmph (approx. 50 to 78 mph). 6 plates.
 
Ginowan Batting Center
• Address: 2-5-1 Akamichi, Ginowan, Okinawa (On the second floor of Kanehide supermarket.)
• Hours: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. (open 7 days a week)
• Notes: A facility with relaxing mood. According to a staff, Americans come to this place from time to time. 25 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 80 to 110kmph (approx. 50 to 68 mph). 10 plates.
 
Oroku Sports Land 
• Address: 1-26-20 Oroku, Naha city, Okinawa 901-0125
• Hours: Noon – 10 p.m. (weekdays); 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. (Sat, Sun, Holidays) Open 7 days a week. 
• Notes: velocity ranges from 80 to 140 kmph (approx. 50 to 87 mph). 27 pitches for 200 yen. 10 plates. There is a pitching machine which can throw curve balls. 
 
Baseball Stadium Kakeen
• Address: 956-1 Gushi Naha City, Okinawa 901-0146
• Hours: 10 p.m. – 11 p.m. (Open 7 days a week)
• Notes: 30 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 80 to 140 kmph (approx. 50 to 87 mph)   
Ameku Family Sports Land
• Address: 889 Ameku, Naha city, Okinawa 900-0005
• Hours: 10 a.m. – 11 p.m. (Open 7 days a week)
• Notes: An amusement complex with pool tables, video games, darts, ping-pong. Velocity ranges from 70 to 145 kmph (approx. 43 to 90 mph). 10 plates. 25 pitches for 200 yen. Homerun competitions take place periodically. 
 
Round one 
• Address: 3-28-8 Shimashi, Ginowan city, Okinawa 901-2224
• Hours: 9 a.m. – 6 a.m. (Mon); 10 a.m. – 6 a.m. (Tue - Thu); 10 a.m. through whole day next day (Friday and eve of holiday); 24h (Sat); Through 6 a.m. of next day (Sunday and holiday)
• Tel: 098-870-2112
• Notes: There are batting cages as part of Spotcha service. 90 minutes for 1,820 yen (1,920 yen on Sat., Sun., and holidays.) 
 
Senaga-jima Sports Park 
• Address: 155 Senaga Tomigusuku city, Okinawa 901-0233
• Hours: 8 a.m. – 4 a.m. (Open 7 days a week)
• Notes: 28 pitches for 200 yen. A small amusement complex on Senaga-jima island.
 
Southern Hill Sports World
• Address: 460-1 Miyahira, Haebaru-cho, Okinawa 901-1104
• Hours: weekdays (1 p.m. – 10 p.m.); Weekend & Holidays (9 a.m. – 10 p.m.) 
• Notes: An amusement/sports complex with skate rink, bowling alley, ping-pong etc. 25 pitches for 200 yen. Velocity ranges from 70 to 130 kmph (approx. 43 to 81 mph). 11 plates.