Tenkara originally comes from Japan, so it makes sense that Japanese companies make great tenkara rods. Nissin, Daiwa, Shimano, and others make high-quality rods that rank towards the top of the market. Look at any tenkara discussion group or forum and you’re sure to see recommendations for Japanese-made rods when people are looking to upgrade.
The issue is that it can be hard for those outside Japan to get a hold of these rods. Some do show up on Amazon and eBay in the US, and there are a few importers/distributors that cater to American audiences. The issue is that there’s often a markup that can potentially drive the cost of the rod outside of your budget.
If you’re looking for the best price on a wide variety of tenkara rods, you should consider buying it directly from Japan. It is not the most straightforward way to buy, but it can save you a lot of money. Here’s my guide to buying directly from the Japanese version of Amazon, along with direct links to popular Japanese tenkara rods.
Buying Direct From Japan vs a US Distributor
There are a number of wonderful US distributors who sell high-quality Japanese tenkara rods. One of the best-known and best-loved is Chris at TenkaraBum.com. Another well-regarded site, TenkaraYa.com, is run by Keiichi Okushi out of Japan but caters to an American/English-speaking audience. Both are great resources for tenkara supplies. Crucially, both provide significant customer service before, during, and after the purchase.
You will often save money when buying directly from Japan vs buying from another distributor. However, it will definitely be a less straightforward experience. You will need to navigate Japanese websites and potentially deal with Japanese-language customer service if things go wrong. Your rod will ship all the way from Japan, which means sending it all the way back if you want to return it.
One option is to buy your rod through Japanese Amazon. Most US consumers are used to buying on Amazon, and the Japanese site works very similarly. The prices tend to be very good, and with the English translation provided by Amazon and some extra Googl Translate it’s fairly easy to make purchases. However, searching in English is hit-or-miss, and many of the listings are primarily or only in Japanese. I’ve included a list of popular tenkara rods later this article, with direct links to purchase them on Japanese Amazon, no searching required.
Another option is to buy through American Amazon, where many (but not all) of the same rods are available. Some ship directly from Japan, some through American intermediaries. You won’t get the same personalized service as TenkaraBum or TenkaraYa, but at least it’ll all be in English. I have included American Amazon links where applicable on all the rods below.
Ultimately, it comes down to how much money you potentially save and how much you value service. The cost savings may make it well worth it to order your tenkara rod directly from Japan. Or, even if you pay a bit more, you may find a US distributor easier to deal with.
How To Order Directly From Japanese Amazon
Find It On Japanese Amazon
Below, I have compiled direct links to various tenkara rods from top Japanese manufacturers on Amazon.co.jp (Japanese Amazon). Without knowledge of Japanese, it can be hard to find these using search. Clicking directly through will place you at the page for that exact rod with no searching required.
Once you’re on the page, you’ll notice something useful: numbers are still recognizable. If you clicked on a 360cm 6:4 tenkara rod, you should see those numbers somewhere on the page, among the Japanese writing. This is a great way to double-check that you have the correct rod.
To the right of the Amazon search bar there’s a little globe icon. Click on it, and you’ll see a drop-down menu of languages, with English as one option. This will change much of the site’s interface to English. However, it won’t translate everything into English, including a lot of important details in each listing.
I highly, highly recommend you run the page through Google Translate or a similar service, just to make sure you know exactly what you are buying. If you have Google’s Chrome browser on a desktop, you can click the “translate” button to the right of the address bar. On mobile, Chrome will give you a pop up asking if you want a translation. These translations are not 100% accurate, but they are usually good enough to check that you have exactly what you’re looking for.
Pricing in Yen
The next thing to do is check the price, which will be in Japanese yen. Since you’re probably not paying in yen, you’ll need to convert that price to dollars in order to price-compare. The easiest way to do this is to Google “[price] yen to usd,” which will bring up the current exchange rate. At the time of writing (September 2019), 1 yen was worth just under 1 US cent, which is more or less where is has been for the past few years. Exchange rates do fluctuate, though, and that can have a big impact on the cost of your rod.
Before buying, make sure that your credit card company doesn’t attach high fees to foreign transactions. Amazon will give you the option to pay in US dollars rather than yen, so choose carefully. My credit card has no foreign transaction fees and good exchange rates, so I usually pay in yen.
If you’re shipping to a foreign address, you’ll notice that the price drops a little. This is because you won’t be paying certain taxes that a Japanese buyer would. However, you will have to pay for shipping, which generally cancels out any saving on that end. For the tenkara rods I’ve looked at, the shipping has been roughly equal to the tax, but this is not always the case.
Buying the Rod
Things on Japanese Amazon works the same as American Amazon. If you’ve ever bought something from Amazon before, you’ll probably be able to navigate many of the buying pages through muscle memory. Their translations do a pretty good job of giving you everything you need to know.
Amazon accounts are specific to each country, so once you’ve decided to check out you’ll be brought to a screen where you will have to create a Japanese Amazon account. Once you do this, you will probably have to verify your email address. The verification email will likely be routed to your spam folder if you don’t normally receive anything in Japanese. They send a verification code in numerals, which you’ll be able to recognize and type in.
Once you’ve made your account, you’ll have to do everything you normally do on Amazon. Enter your shipping/billing address, your credit card details, and what kind of shipping you want. You’ll be able to confirm the final price, shipping included, before buying. Make sure that you’re still getting a good deal, and then click the big yellow button. Congratulations, you bought a tenkara rod!
Nissin Tenkara Rods
Nissin is a very popular brand among beginner and expert tenkara anglers alike. They offer a wide range of well-built rods for a variety of purposes and budgets.
Many anglers find that Nissin rods feel softer than similarly-rated rods from other manufacturers. So, a Nissin 6:4 is often closer to a “normal” 5:5, 7:3 feels like 6:4, etc. Keep that in mind when you’re selecting your rod, and look up reviews of each model you’re considering before buying.
Nissin Pro Square
The Nissin Pro Square is their entry-level tenkara rod. It is a great choice for a first tenkara rod, and comes in Nissin’s tenkara starter packs (see below). Since it’s made in a variety of lengths from 320-450cm, the Pro Square is also a great way to inexpensively expand your tenkara rod collection.
- Nissin Pro Square 320 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 320 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 320 8:2 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 360 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 360 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 360 8:2 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 390 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 390 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 390 8:2 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 450 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 450 7:3 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Pro Square 450 8:2 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
Nissin Tenkara Starter Kit
The Nissin Tenkara Starter Kit has everything you need to get on the water. It includes a 7:3 Pro Square rod (choose either 320 or 360cm), line, tippet, and flies. This is a great value for an all-in-one kit.
- Nissin Tenkara Starter Pack 320 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Tenkara Starter Pack 360 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
Nissin Pro Spec
Nissin’s Pro Spec tenkara rods have a handy zoom feature that allows you to fish them at two lengths. The Pro Spec 360 rod is usable at both 360cm and 310cm, while the Pro Spec 320 goes from 320cm to 270cm. Both are available in 6:4 and 7:3 versions. They’re great rods for anyone who needs to shorten up for brushy or branch-filled streams, but still wants length when things open up.
- Nissin Pro Spec 320 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Spec 320 7:3 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Pro Spec 360 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Pro Spec 360 7:3 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
Nissin Royal Stage
Royal Stage is Nissin’s midrange line of tenkara rods. A step up from the Pro Square models, it’s a great choice for those looking to upgrade from entry-level rods.
- Nissin Royal Stage 320 6:4 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Royal Stage 320 7:3 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Royal Stage 360 6:4 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Royal Stage 360 7:3 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Royal Stage 400 6:4 – Japanese Amazon
- Nissin Royal Stage 400 7:3 – Japanese Amazon
Nissin Air Stage Fuji-Style
Nissin enlisted tenkara master Hiromichi Fuji to design this rod, and the result is a well-balanced rod that has drawn some rave reviews. The regular Air Stage designed for very traditional tenkara fishing: mountain streams, small to medium-sized trout. They’re available in 330, 360, and 410cm lengths, all in both 5:5 and 6:4 action.
- Nissin Air Stage 330 5:5 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage 330 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage 360 5:5 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage 360 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage 410 5:5 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage 410 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
Nissin also makes Air Stage rods in a “Main Stream” style, which is available in both 380 and 450cm lengths. It’s designed for bigger water and bigger fish, with a stiffer action. The Main Stream rods are made up of only 4 sections, so they are much longer than most tenkara rods when collapsed.
- Nissin Air Stage Main Stream 380 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin Air Stage Main Stream 380 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
The ZeroSum is Nissin’s top-of-the-line tenkara offering. It’s aesthetically quite beautiful, and has gotten rave reviews for its lightness and casting ability.
- Nissin ZeroSum 320 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin ZeroSum 360 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin ZeroSum 400 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
- Nissin ZeroSum 450 6:4 – Japanese Amazon – American Amazon
Nissin Tenkara Mini
A lot of people get into tenkara for its ultralight weight and tiny size. Nissin’s Tenkara Mini takes that to the extreme. It weighs less than 2 ounces, and collapses to less than a foot. If you’re looking for a grab-and-go rod for your next ultralight hike, the Tenkara Mini is a pretty neat option. It comes in a single length (320cm) and action (7:3).
Daiwa Tenkara Rods
Daiwa should familiar to anglers using many different kinds of gear. Their baitcasting and spinning rods and reels are well-regarded, and their tenkara offerings are of similarly high quality.
Daiwa denotes which type of line their tenkara rods were designed for with either an LT (tapered/furled line) or LL (level line). They often have the same model and length in both designs. The LT models are generally stiffer, somewhere around a 7:3, while the LL rods are softer, around a 5:5. There’s also LT H (hard), which is stiffer still.
The Daiwa RT models are actually made in China by Daiwa, and have gotten mixed reviews upon hitting the market. They are fairly inexpensive, however, and made in short lengths good for small, brushy streams.
- Daiwa Tenkara RT 27 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Tenkara RT 30 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Tenkara RT 36 – Japanese Amazon
Daiwa NEO Tenkara
Daiwa’s NEO line of tenkara rods are both affordable and high-performing, making them a great step up or starter rod.
Daiwa Mountain Stream Tenkara Fishing Kit
The Daiwa Mountain Stream Tenkara Fishing Kit is another “all-in-one” pack, featuring a rod, flies, line, tippet, and a carrying case. It comes in 330 and 360cm lengths, and is geared towards beginning tenkara anglers.
- Daiwa Mountain Stream Tenkara Fishing Kit 33 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Mountain Stream Tenkara Fishing Kit 36 – Japanese Amazon
Daiwa Expert Tenkara
Daiwa replaced their very popular Enshou line of tenkara rods with their Expert line. It’s a mostly minimalist rods with a few nice touches, like the micro swivel the lillian is attached to.
- Daiwa Expert Tenkara LT 33 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Expert Tenkara LL 36 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Expert Tenkara LT H36 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Expert Tenkara LT 39 – Japanese Amazon
- Daiwa Expert Tenkara LT H44 – Japanese Amazon
Shimano Tenkara Rods
Shimano makes a bunch of other sporting equipment besides fishing gear, including bicycles and rowing equipment. Like Daiwa, they are well-known among non-tenkara anglers for their fishing tackle, which covers just about any kind of fishing out there.
Shimano NB Tenkara
The NB line is Shimano’s entry-level tenkara rod line, available in both 33 and 36cm lengths. They’re made in a single action, which is roughly 6:4. While they lack some of the finishing touches of the more expensive NX line, the NB rods are still very high quality.
Shimano NX Tenkara
Shimano’s NX line is a step up from the NB rods, lighter weight and with some subtle design differences. The NX rods come in both soft (S) and hard (H) actions. They also have a specially-designed grip with two gripping areas, giving you more flexibility.
- Shimano LLS33 NX – Japanese Amazon
- Shimano LLS36 NX – Japanese Amazon
- Shimano LLH33 NX – Japanese Amazon
- Shimano LLH36 NX – Japanese Amazon
Shimano Maystone NW
This is a relatively new, decidedly nontraditional offering from Shimano. Most notably, it doesn’t have a lillian! Instead, there’s a metal tip with a small knob to tie your line to. It rotates on the rod, and supposedly helps transmit the vibrations of a potential strike better. There’s also a hook holder, much like many western rods, and a carved wooden insert in the grip. Like many of Shimano’s rods, it was developed with lots of input by tenkara master Hisao Ishigaki.
- Shimano Maystone 33 NW – Japanese Amazon
Shimano Main Stream 44 NP
The Main Stream 44 NP is a big-water tenkara rod, with a full, deep flex. Even though smaller fish will put a big bend in the rod, it will handle some seriously big fish. Plus, the 440cm length gives you plenty of reach.
- Shimano Main Stream 44 NP – Japanese Amazon
Shimano Pack Tenkara
The Pack Tenkara is Shimano’s zoom rod, perfect for carrying with you on trips up into the mountains. It’s fishable at two lengths, and packs down to a very short 17″. Shimano makes the pack rod in two sizes, one which zoom from 310 to 340cm, and one from 340 to 380cm.
Gamakatsu Tenkara Rods
Gamakatsu is a familiar name to many anglers through their hooks, which are available in just about every tackle shop and big box store. They make a variety of fishing tackle and gear, including tenkara rods.
Gamakatsu’s MultiFlex tenkara rods are (as you might guess) zoom rods that can be fished at multiple lengths. It comes in three lengths: 4.0, 4.5, and 5.0m. The two shorter rods zoom to three different lengths, each 50cm apart (e.g. 3.0-3.5-4.0m). The longest only has two fishable lengths, 4.2 and 5.0m.
- Gamakatsu MultiFlex Suimu EX 4.0 – Japanese Amazon
- Gamakatsu MultiFlex Suimu EX 4.5 – Japanese Amazon
- Gamakatsu MultiFlex Suimu EX 5.0 – Japanese Amazon
Suntech Tenkara Rods
Suntech’s tenkara and keiryu rods have proven popular among American tenkara anglers. The name may not be very familiar to non-tenkara anglers, but they make great gear.
Chris over at TenkaraBum.com is one of the most trusted American sources for tenkara gear and knowledge. He teamed up with Suntech to design a special line of tenkara rods, available both in America through his website and in Japan.
- Suntech TenkaraBum 33 – Japanese Amazon
- Suntech TenkaraBum 36 – Japanese Amazon
- Suntech TenkaraBum 40 – Japanese Amazon
Suntech Field Master
Designed for keiryu (bait fishing), Suntech’s Field Master rods are on the stiffer side for tenkara rods, making them great for beadheads and other heavier flies/nymphs. They are also bi-zoom rods, fishable in three different lengths. While Suntech makes them in two seriously long sizes (620 and 530cm), the most popular for tenkara are the 390 and 440cm models.