Just like other facets of contemporary Japanese culture, the sports scene in Japan is an interesting blend of games and activities from both Japan and overseas.
Probably the largest spectator and commercial sport in Japan today is baseball though in recent years soccer has been increasing in popularity. Baseball is typically known as yakyuu in Japan. The term literally means “field ball.” It was a term coined when the game was introduced by an American English professor in the 1870’s. By 1920 the first professional baseball league had started in Japan and from then on it quickly became a national past-time. High-school tournaments, such as the one held in Koshien each year, have become iconic. Many teen-aged Koshien participants have gone on to become professionals in Japan and the USA.
As mentioned earlier soccer is also a very important sport in Japan. Soccer was first introduced to Japan around the same time as baseball. Despite being a hugely popular international game, the sport never really gained a lot of interest in Japan until the 1960s when Japan won an Olympic bronze medal in the sport. Since then soccer’s popularity has snowballed until in the early 1990’s the professional “J-League” was formed. In 1998 Japan made its first appearance at the soccer world cup finals. The team didn’t win a game but its appearance at the tournament was seen as a huge sign that soccer was now a major sport in Japan. Interest in the game peaked in 2002 with Japan co-hosting the world cup with Korea. Earlier this year Japan recorded their first ever victory in a world cup tournament.
Traditional Japanese sports are still very important. The most popular Japanese sport by far is sumo. Sumo is hundreds of years old and today the sport is fully professional with approximately 700 registered professional sumo wrestlers affiliated with 54 stables. The sport is administered by the Japan Sumo Association. The top-most sumo division receives a huge live and television audience with the highest ranking yokozuna receiving great prestige and financial reward. Sumo can trace its origins to ancient Mongolia where wrestling has been a hugely popular sport for thousands of years. As a result the sumo leagues of Japan feature a number of Mongolian wrestlers. The most famous of whom being recent yokozuna Asashoryu and Hakuho.
Of course there are many more sports to watch and take part in in Japan. Here we’ve only touched on the top three. Joining a club or team is an important part of Japanese culture. Consequently, sports thrive in Japan. Team members and supporters are incredibly organized in their chants and cheers for their teams. If you can’t join a Japanese sports team, being a spectator is also a great experience.