If you find yourself in Tokyo during basketball season, in need of a place to watch some Hawks basketball, Ball Tongue Basketball Cafe is the place to be.
Located in the fashionable Koto region of Japan’s capital city, the cafe provides full service accommodation to fans who want to watch their NBA teams. Are you on vacation in Tokyo and itching to watch a random Hawks/Bucks game in the middle of December? Call in to reserve a table and a TV, sit down for your morning coffee (local NBA start times are typically around 8:00 a.m. in Tokyo), and watch from one of the many projectors that Ball Tongue has at their disposal. The cafe gets a diverse litany of visitors from all over the world—a large portion of the bar’s overall demographic is American tourists—but they all share one interest: watching basketball.
“We wanted to create a cafe like this to help bring people together from all over the world,” Ball Tongue founder Yusuke Hamaza told HawksHoop. “I love playing basketball, I love watching basketball, I love talking about basketball. That’s my calling.”
In a country that isn’t exactly enamored with basketball—football (soccer), sumo wrestling and baseball dominate sporting culture in Japan—there is a dearth of venues for NBA fans to express their fandom. Ball Tongue is one of those places.
“I love basketball, and I love culture—American culture particularly, but all culture,” Hamaza said. “I wanted to build a cafe that was not just located in Tokyo, but also in New York, in Los Angeles, in Atlanta—spiritually speaking. I wanted to build a community in Tokyo that was a merger of those two things—culture and basketball.”
The atmosphere in the cafe definitely corroborates Hamaza’s want for the ambience to be “worldly.” Signed basketball jerseys and Hamaza’s own clothing designs litter the walls—as many American sports bars tout—but so do a variety of Japanese, European and Latin American-infused street art. The language heard most commonly inside the bar is English—the world’s lingua franca—as opposed to Japanese.
But, it’s still surprising to see a community center for basketball fans do so well in Japan. Japan’s relatively low interest in basketball is reflected by the constant mergers and folds that happen to franchises in their top professional basketball league. In fact, the very structure of their first-tier basketball league is nearly always in flux—the country has had three different leagues claim “top-flight status” in the last five years. The current incarnation—the B.League—started in 2016, which Hamaza said has helped his business a little bit.
Despite the instability of basketball in Japan, Hamaza is still optimistic that the sport can, one day, surpass the traditional powerhouse sports in popularity.
“I think, considering how our country is going,” Hamaza said, “that one day, basketball can be one of the most popular sports in this country.”