Jason didn't want to start the interview the same way all of them seem to start "So, how did you first learn about tenkara?"
For me, the fact that tenkara is Japanese really had nothing to do with it. I guess I'd have to go back to the first time I saw a photo of a North Country wet fly on the internet. The North Country style is called that because it was the style of northern England.
I was struck by the sparseness and the almost austere beauty. I wanted to learn as much as I could about them and how to fish them. I soon learned that when they originated, people used very long rods. The rods were called loop rods because they had a loop of twisted horsehair at the rod tip, and the line (also horsehair) was tied to the loop. There is a good book called The Angler and the Loop Rod, which you can read online, but there isn't really much else specifically about loop rods. I first came across a mention of tenkara while researching the horsehair lines that were used with loop rods. It turns out that the ancient tenkara anglers also used horsehair lines.
I soon learned that tenkara rods were about the length of the old loop rods, so you could fish the North Country wets they way the were originally fished. However, the rods are not only lighter and more convenient to transport, best of all they are commercially available so I wouldn't have to find someone's woodshop to try to make a loop rod. I started researching tenkara. Back then (2007), there was virtually nothing about tenkara except for Japanese websites. A few of those were in English, but most were in Japanese and the computerized translation is almost useless. That made learning anything pretty difficult.
I know a lot of people are attracted to tenkara because it is Japanese, whether because they like Japanese culture or are attracted to Zen or perhaps martial arts. To me, though, now that I've learned a bit more about it, what continues to attract me to tenkara is its effectiveness. I catch a lot more fish than I did before. The reason for that is the long rod and light line allow me to keep the line off the water, so there is less drag. Less drag means better presentation and that means more fish. Tenkara doesn't catch more fish because it's Japanese, it catches more fish because it gives you better presentations.
I really believe the Japanese origin helped to create interest in tenkara in the US, but I also believe that at least in the US, tenkara has to grow past its origins. Although interest is growing, a backlash is also growing among people who are put off by a perception of elitism or hype or a cult-like bashing of western syle fly fishing. To avoid creating a greater backlash, I think tenkara has to be presented as just another niche within the larger sphere of fly fishing, and one that has advantages in specific applications. Whether the method is Japanese or Italian or Macedonian isn't important.