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Japan’s fitness industry faces up to post-Coronavirus lockdown challenge

Japan’s fitness industry faces up to post-Coronavirus lockdown challenge
February 17, 2021

While the world focusses on Japan’s preparedness for the Tokyo Olympics, the nation’s Coronavirus state of emergency is also having a significant impact on its fitness industry.

In a feature on the Asian Leisure Business website, freelance writer Richard Young highlights that restrictions to handle Japan's third wave of COVID-19 cases, which began to spike late last year, are also affecting Japan's already struggling fitness industry.

Gyms and fitness centres are currently limited to shorter hours, including numbers of members present at one time. Although Japan has the fifth largest fitness industry globally, the country's membership penetration rate is on the lower end of the Asian market at 3.3%.

With the excessive work rate of salaried Japanese workers, the primary target market for Japan’s fitness industry is the elderly demographic (65 years and above) as retirees have more time to attend fitness classes and join health clubs.

Large chain franchises, which make up 58% of the overall market, tend to cater to older members, sacrificing a younger audience. Cultural taboos may also cause large-scale gyms to attract a younger client as more senior members, particularly women, may not wish to workout around more youthful men.

Young cites, John Holsinger, Asia-Pacific Director at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), explaining the cultural taboos in Japan's fitness industry, explaining “female-only clubs are taking hold, but again many with older populations.

“Cultural taboos mean older women do not wish to work out with males nor see themselves in the mirror when working out.”

Japan's COVID-19 outbreak caused much distress to many industries, including the fitness industry. As smaller gyms would have less financial backing, closing their doors or limited hours caused severe hardship to obtain a steady income to keep the business alive.

Upon Japan's first Coronavirus state of emergency back in April of last year, major fitness chains like Anytime Fitness, Gold's Gym and Joyfit temporarily shut their doors.

Gold's Gym subsequently filing for bankruptcy due to COVID-19 related shutdowns caused shock among fitness enthusiasts in Japan for, as one of the leading fitness franchises in Japan, the fall of the gym whose brand strength commenced with Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1977 bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron, showed the pandemic’s impact on the fitness industry.

With COVID-19 identified as affecting the elderly more than most other age groups, and Japan’s fitness market focused on that demographic, the fear of gyms as a location for passing bacteria saw many of these elderly members avoiding them.

Health issues were also a concern regarding whether members would return once gym restrictions lifted.

When discussing gyms in Japan, Holsinger added "Japan is almost at a 100%" of membership return as the country came out of their second wave of COVID-19 cases late last year. With case numbers currently declining, it's optimistic to think gym member returns will follow a similar route.

Click here to read Richard Young's full article on the Asian Leisure Business website.

Images: Central Sports Tokyo (above) and Anytime Fitness Japan master franchisee Toru Yamazaki announcing 2015 plans to grow the group's Japanese network to 100 facilities (below).

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