▶ Sumo is a match between two sumo wrestlers. It is the national sport of Japan. The present style of sumo wrestling started about 300 (three hundred) years ago.
▶ A wrestler wins when he drives his opponent out of the ring or when a part of the opponent’s body touches the ground. Because of the sport’s long history, there are many formalities before and after a match.
▶ Professional sumo is a very popular sport to watch. There are six annual tournaments held at different cities. These tournaments are broadcast nationwide. Strong wrestlers are given special ranks. The highest rank is yokozuna. There are some foreigners who became yokozuna.
Sumo is the oldest sport in Japan and was originally practiced as a part of Shinto rituals for agricultural fertility in ancient times. Professional wrestlers appeared in the Edo period, and bouts were performed to raise funds to build temples and shrines. In 1909, sumo was designated the national sport of Japan. In a sumo match, two wrestlers wearing only loincloths wrestle in a 4.5-meter diameter ring until one of them is pushed out or touches the ground with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet. There are six tournaments lasting 15 days every year, three in Tokyo and one in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka, respectively.
Judo is one of the most well-known traditional Japanese sports. Jigoro Kano who founded the Kodokan in 1882, developed judo from jujitsu, a traditional martial art. The word judo literally means “the way of softness or gentleness,” meaning that even small wrestlers can take advantage of their opponent’s force and weight in order to overwhelm them. The major techniques involve throwing and grappling. The purpose of judo is not just to defeat the opponent but to train one’s body and mind. The color of the belts worn by participants over jackets indicates their rank: white is the lowest, then brown, black is worn by the first to fifth dans; red and white by the sixth to eighth dans; and red by the ninth and tenth dans. Since the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, judo has been an official Olympic event for men, with contestants classified according to their weight. Judo became an official event for women in 1992. It was one of the first Japanese sports introduced overseas, and as of 2010 there were 200 countries and regions belonging to the I.J.F. (International Judo Federation).
Kendo was developed as an essential discipline for samurai warriors during the Edo period. Influenced by Buddhism and Confucianism, it stresses not only the acquisition of technique, but spiritual refinement. In a kendo match, participants wearing protective gear attack each other with bamboo swords called shinai. Points are scored by hitting an opponent’s head, trunk, or forearms and by charging at the throat with a shinai.
Karate was first introduced from China to Okinawa, where it developed as the art of self defense when weapons were prohibited. Fighters trained their whole bodies to be used as weapons. There are two types of karate matches, kumite and kata. Kumite is a sparring match where points are scored when players stop their thrusts and kicks inches from their opponent’s bodies. In kata matches, they demonstrate combinations of various techniques. Spiritual aspects are also stressed in karate.
Kyudo is a kind of archery which developed as a martial art in Japan during the Muromachi period. Bows and arrows had been used as weapons since ancient times, up until the 16th century, when firearms were introduced. Since then, kyudo became an indispensable discipline for samurai warriors. Today people practice kyudo primarily to train their mind and spirit, because aiming at targets requires great concentration. The distance to the target is generally 28 meters in short-distance shooting and more than 60 meters in long-distance shooting.
Aikido is a unique Japanese martial art which does not use weapons but ki, an invisible energy that supposedly exists in nature and humans and can be derived by training proper breathing techniques. Trained players can throw their opponents by grasping or twisting their hands, feet or joints and using their opponents’ strength to their benefit. Aikido has become even more popular today because it can be mastered by anybody regardless of their sex or age.
Baseball has been the most popular sport in Japan since it was introduced by an American schoolteacher in 1871. In those days, players wore loincloths or hakama, formal Japanese skirts, instead of uniforms. Prior to the advent of the professional game in 1934, there were tournaments between six universities, as well as all-Japan high school baseball tournaments. Now there are two professional leagues, the Central and the Pacific League, consisting of six teams each. The winners in each league compete against each other in the Japan Series at the end of the season.
Tokyo was chosen to host the Summer Olympic & Paralympic Games in 2020. Japan has been participating in the Olympics since the Stockholm games in 1912. In 1964, Japan hosted the 18th Summer Olympic Games where Japanese won the most medals, including 16 golds. Japan has struggled to win medals since then. However, it gained 38 medals including 7 gold, that ranked Japan 11th in the final medals table at 2012’s London Olympic Games.
Golf was introduced to Japan in 1901 by an English merchant who lived in Kobe, and the first golf course for Japanese was built in 1914. A golf boom started in the 70’s, first among business people, but it spread quickly to the masses. Today, there are more than 3,000 golf courses and more than 15 million golfers in Japan. Although it has become cheaper to play since the bubble economy collapsed, it is still considered an expensive sport. In an effort to protect the environment, governments have introduced new regulations which determine how courses are built.
Japan experienced a soccer boom in the 60’s when the Japanese national team had remarkable results in the Tokyo and Mexico Olympics. Since then, however, Japanese soccer teams have played poorly at the international level. Soccer has become more popular in Japan since 1993 when the Japan soccer league, called the “J-League,” was launched as a professional sports association. There are 18 teams in the League’s Division 1. In 1998, Japan qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals for the first time, which had been a long-time dream of Japanese soccer fans. Japan co-hosted the World Cup with the Republic of Korea in 2002.
An increasing number of amateur runners participate in marathons held all over Japan. The first Japanese marathon runner to win an Olympic medal was Koukichi Tsuburaya in Tokyo in 1964. Two female Japanese runners, Naoko Takahashi and Mizuki Noguchi won a gold medal each in Sydney in 2000 and in Athens in 2004 respectively.