Japanese culture is intertwined with sport, whether it be kendo and kyudo, originally developed for hunting and combat; Judo, a combat sport with the philosophical aim of perfecting one’s character; or the must see cultural sport experience, sumo, the ancient Shinto ritual that has represented Japan as a national sport for centuries.
Sport in Japan is observed with almost religious fervour, something Australians will easily understand! Whilst imported international sports like baseball and skiing are incredibly popular, with rugby also on the rise, nothing competes with the traditional athletic pursuits that are quintessentially Japanese.
The biggest and thus the best has to be sumo, the iconic sport with no shortage of cultural gravitas. Sumo is the national sport of Japan, and its origins stretch back to ancient Shinto rituals in which the hefty wrestlers would face off in honour of various Shinto deities. Today, the sport is very much of the people, with hugely popular 15-day tournaments occurring six times a year across Tokyo (January, May and September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November).
The much-revered sport of sumo has turned the wrestlers into national superstars, but that’s where any modernisation ends. Viewing a sumo tournament, you’ll see many of the same rituals practised since ancient times including the famous salt throwing occurring on the same sand-covered clay rings, or dohyo.
From the heavyweights of sumo to the honour of the samurai, other sports not to miss on your Japan holiday include kendo and kyudo. Kendo is an ancient form of Japanese fencing, while kyudo is the art of archery that emerged from the feudal era of the samurai and is still practised to this day. As a testament to the skill of these legendary athletes, every single world champion in kendo has been Japanese, despite it being a world sport since the 1970s.
Hand-to-hand martial arts are another incredibly popular sport in Japan, particularly judo. An Olympic sport since 1964, judo’s focus is on defense rather than attack, calling for devotees to develop a perfect character that contributes to society.
This path of self-discovery and peace is a crucial element of all Japanese martial arts, in which the body and spirit and seen as one. Anyone interested in Japan’s incredible history of martial arts will marvel at the display of skill involved at tournaments and showings around the country.