Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sports in Japan

Just like other facets of contemporary Japanese culture, the sports scene in Japan is an interesting blend of both domestic and international games and activities.

Although soccer has been increasing in popularity in recent years, the most popular and commercial sport in Japan today is probably baseball. Baseball is typically known as yakyuu in Japan. The term literally means “field ball”. It dates back to the 1870's when the game was introduced by an American English professor. 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 annually, have become iconic. Many teen-aged Koshien participants have gone on to become professional baseball players 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 gained much interest in Japan until the 1960's when Japan won an Olympic bronze medal for soccer. Since then soccer’s popularity rapidly increased, leading to the formation of professional “J-League" in the early 1990’s. 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 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 great number of spectators both on television and at the match with the highest ranking yokozuna receiving great prestige and financial reward. Sumo traces its origin to ancient Mongolia where wrestling had 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 being the recent yokozuna, Asashoryu and Hakuho.

Of course there are many more sports to watch and participate in Japan. Here we have only touched on the top three. Joining a club or a 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.

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