Japanese sports   日本のスポーツ

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The sumo wrestling can be staggering.

Sumo wrestling can be staggering.

Kyudo, Japanese archery

Kendo, a Japanese martial art

Kamari, Japanese football

Keirin cyclists


Japanese baseball

A question of sport

There are many traditional Japanese sports which the Japanese enjoy, but over time they have also adopted many other sports from around the world...

Are you familiar with any Japanese sports? Traditional, martial, or imported from abroad, Japan has always been passionate about sport.


Obviously the national sport of Japan is sumo, a form of wrestling that has existed for 1500 years. It was long considered a Shinto religious ceremony to celebrate the kami, Shinto deities, rather than a sport! Even today the sumo world is still strongly anchored in the world of tradition: everything related to combat and even the wrestlers ritual gestures and falls are scrupulously respected.

Martial Arts

These types of sports comes from Japanese budo, or 'the way of battle'. The techniques and the art of war developed across multiple disciplines in the Muromachi period (1338-1573) and the samurai continued the perpetuation of these arts.

In the Meiji era, with the disappearance of the feudal system, martial arts evolved to take an educational role, both bodily and spiritual. Kenjutsu (fencing) became kendo, jujitsu (technical flexibility) turned into judo and aikido, and kyujutsu (archery) became kyudo. Later in 1920, karate, the traditional martial art of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (the former name of Okinawa) was introduced to the main islands.


Kemari is a Japanese sport less known abroad, when compared with karate or judo. Yet it was the most popular sport in the Heian period (794-1185). It's a kind of football that is played with 6 or 8 people and a buckskin ball. The rule of the game is to keep the ball in the air as long as possible without using your hands. It isn't practiced much today, but you can sometimes see the game played in Shinto temples during ceremonies, with players wearing the special clothes of the time. We recommend Shiramine Jinja in Kyoto, dedicated to the kami of sport.


Ekiden is an athletics event, a kind of relay race as the name suggests: eki (station) den (transmit), the aim is to repeatedly pass a kind of scarf (tasuki) during a race that can last tens of kilometers.

The first race was held in 1917 on the Tokaido Road between Kyoto and Tokyo, for 508km with 23 relay runners. The ekiden is very popular in Japan. The distance and the number of runners may vary. Many races are held each year, including the famous Hakone Ekiden, a university race. It is held annually between January 2 and 3 and is nearly 217 km long, with 10 runners and 21 universities competing. This race is broadcast on television, and is always full of drama and heroes who show their passion onscreen! 


This is a cycling track competition which first began in 1948 in Kokura, Kyushu. Keirin has been a World Championship event since 1980. Today it's an Olympic sport, and has been since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.


This is a game played by two teams of five. It was invented for children in 1947 by Suzuki Kazunobu, who took the idea of ​​croquet and simplified the rules. In the 1960s, gateball experienced popularity amongst the elderly, as not a lot of physical effort is needed to play.


This is an American sport that arrived in Japan in the Meiji Era when Japan opened up to the rest of the world. Baseball has now become so popular it has almost become the national sport of Japan! Twelve professional teams are divided into two leagues, and participate in competitions, each team playing 143 games throughout the regular season. Matches are broadcast on television and often talked about in Japan. During the summer holidays, a high school baseball tournament is organized. This is a very important event of the summer in Japan - more than 4000 schools participate every year in the hope of being named the best high school team.

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