To most rural folks, especially in the south, tenkara sounds a whole lot like cane pole fishing, both use telescoping fixed line rods with no reels but that is just about where the similarity ends. Purpose made tenkara rods are much lighter, more compact and most importantly designed to cast a small fly instead of a bobber with a wad of worms underneath it.
So why would you choose to handicap yourself and fish with a rod with no reel? Believe it or not Tenkara has some definite advantages over regular western style fly fishing. I think the largest advantage is the very light line combined with the long rod. There is no thick fly line to catch the current and put unnatural drag on your fly so with tenkara you are able to get perfect drag free drifts in many parts of the stream that would be very difficult, if not impossible, with western style gear. The next advantage is the simplicity and compactness. A rod, a small spool of level line, a small spool of tippet material and a box with a few flies is all that is needed, instead of a sling pack or fly vest everything will fit in your pockets. This lightweight and compactness was a huge attraction for me. I am always looking for ways to lighten my pack and for the small backcountry trout streams I enjoy, tenkara really excels. A complete tenkara outfit can be lighter than just the reel and line from a typical western set up. On the left is my western outfit on the right is my tenkara set up.