What is Japan’s Traditional Sport?

Japan is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, and its traditional sports are no exception. One such sport that has been practiced for centuries in Japan is Sumo wrestling. This ancient sport is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and has been a source of national pride for the country. Sumo wrestling is a physically demanding and highly technical sport that requires strength, agility, and strategic thinking. It is a spectacle that attracts millions of spectators worldwide and has become an integral part of Japan’s identity. This article will delve into the history, techniques, and cultural significance of Sumo wrestling, exploring why it is considered Japan’s traditional sport.

Quick Answer:
Japan’s traditional sport is sumo wrestling. It is a physical competition between two wrestlers, where the objective is to force the other wrestler out of the ring or onto the ground. Sumo wrestling has a long history in Japan, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868), and is deeply rooted in Japanese culture. It is a popular spectator sport, with tournaments held throughout the year, particularly during the New Year’s holiday season. Sumo wrestlers are known for their great size and strength, and the sport requires not only physical prowess but also strategy and mental focus. The rules and traditions of sumo wrestling are complex, and the sport is governed by a strict code of conduct. Despite its ancient origins, sumo wrestling remains an important part of modern Japanese culture and is beloved by fans both in Japan and around the world.

History of Sports in Japan

Origins of Sports in Japan

Japan has a rich history when it comes to sports. The origins of sports in Japan can be traced back to the Jomon period (14,000-300 BCE), where clay figures of people engaged in what appears to be a game were found. However, it was during the Nara period (710-794) that sports as we know it today began to take shape.

During this time, the Japanese government promoted various sports as a way to keep the population healthy and strong. Archery, for example, was popularized as a way to train soldiers and improve their aim. Other sports, such as sumo wrestling and horse racing, were also developed during this period.

The Heian period (794-1185) saw the rise of more formalized sports, such as kendo (Japanese fencing) and judo (a martial art that emphasizes throwing and grappling). These sports were often practiced by the nobility and the warrior class, and were seen as a way to demonstrate strength and skill.

As Japan became more open to the outside world during the Edo period (1603-1868), sports from other countries began to be introduced. Western sports such as baseball, rugby, and football were introduced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and have since become popular in Japan.

Today, Japan is known for its unique blend of traditional and modern sports, with many people participating in both. The popularity of sports in Japan continues to grow, and the country has hosted numerous international sporting events, including the Olympics.

Evolution of Sports in Japan

Sports have played a significant role in Japanese culture for centuries. From ancient times to the modern era, sports have evolved significantly in Japan, reflecting the country’s cultural, social, and economic changes. In this section, we will explore the evolution of sports in Japan, focusing on the historical development of sports and their impact on Japanese society.

Ancient Sports in Japan

The earliest sports in Japan were traditional martial arts, such as Kendo, Judo, and Karate, which were developed to promote physical fitness and self-defense skills. These martial arts were initially practiced by the samurai class, but later became popular among the general population. Other ancient sports in Japan included archery, horse racing, and boat racing.

Modern Sports in Japan

The modern era of sports in Japan began in the late 19th century, when the country began to modernize and open up to the world. During this time, Western sports, such as soccer, baseball, and tennis, were introduced to Japan, and Japanese athletes began to compete in international events. In 1909, the Japan Amateur Athletic Association was established, which helped to promote and develop sports in Japan.

Post-World War II Sports in Japan

After World War II, sports in Japan underwent significant changes. The Japanese government implemented policies to promote sports as a means of promoting national unity and international cooperation. This led to the development of new sports, such as volleyball and table tennis, which became popular in Japan and around the world. Additionally, Japan began to host international sporting events, such as the Tokyo Olympics, which helped to raise the profile of Japanese sports.

Professional Sports in Japan

In recent years, professional sports have become increasingly popular in Japan. The Japanese Professional Baseball League (NPB) is one of the most popular professional sports leagues in Japan, attracting large crowds and generating significant revenue. Other professional sports leagues, such as the J. League (soccer) and the B. League (basketball), have also gained popularity in recent years.

Overall, the evolution of sports in Japan has been shaped by a variety of factors, including cultural, social, and economic changes. From ancient martial arts to modern professional sports, sports have played a significant role in Japanese culture and society, reflecting the country’s unique history and identity.

Popular Sports in Japan Today

Key takeaway: Japan has a rich history when it comes to sports, with sports evolving significantly over time. From ancient martial arts like Kendo and Judo to modern professional sports like baseball and football, Japan has a unique blend of traditional and modern sports. Today, baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan, while sumo wrestling and football (soccer) are also highly popular. Additionally, Japan has a long history of traditional sports, including Kendo, Judo, and Archery. These sports hold cultural significance and play a significant role in promoting physical and mental well-being, preserving cultural traditions, and fostering social interaction and community building. In recent years, Japan has also seen the emergence of new sports, including parkour, skateboarding, esports, and rock climbing. Japan has also hosted numerous international sporting events, including the Olympics, and the government has implemented policies to promote sports as a means of promoting national unity and international cooperation. Overall, sports play a significant role in Japanese culture and society, reflecting the country’s unique history and identity.


Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan today. It was first introduced to the country in the late 19th century by American missionaries, and it quickly gained popularity among the Japanese people. Baseball is now considered Japan’s national sport, and it is played at both the professional and amateur levels throughout the country.

In Japan, baseball games are held in large stadiums, with the most famous being the Tokyo Dome. The professional baseball league in Japan is known as the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, and it consists of six teams. The NPB league is considered one of the top professional baseball leagues in the world, and it attracts some of the best players from Japan and other countries.

The rules of baseball in Japan are similar to those in the United States, but there are some differences. For example, the pitcher’s mound is lower in Japan, and the size of the baseball used is slightly smaller. Additionally, the NPB league has a longer season than Major League Baseball in the United States, with games running from late March to late October.

Despite its American origins, baseball has become deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, and it is a source of national pride. The Japanese national team has won the World Baseball Classic tournament several times, and many Japanese players have gone on to play in Major League Baseball in the United States.

Overall, baseball is a beloved sport in Japan, and it continues to be a major part of the country’s sporting culture.

Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling is a traditional sport in Japan that has been practiced for centuries. It is a physical combat sport where wrestlers, known as “rikishi,” compete against each other in a circular ring called a “dohyo.” The objective of the sport is to force the opponent out of the ring or to make them touch the ground with any part of their body other than their feet, known as a “mawari.”

Sumo wrestling is governed by a set of rules and rituals that are deeply rooted in Japanese culture. The sport is divided into six divisions, with the highest being the “Mongolian” division and the lowest being the “Jonidan” division. Rikishi start at the bottom division and work their way up through promotion and demotion based on their performance in tournaments.

Matches are held in tournaments called “honbasho,” which take place six times a year. Each tournament lasts for 15 days, and wrestlers compete in multiple matches against different opponents. The winner of the tournament is the wrestler with the most wins, and they are promoted to a higher division.

Sumo wrestling is not just a sport, but also a lifestyle. Rikishi adhere to a strict regime of training, diet, and etiquette. They must maintain a certain weight, which is determined by their division, and follow a traditional diet that includes large amounts of rice, fish, and other foods. They also engage in ritual purification before and after matches, and bow to each other as a sign of respect.

Despite its traditional roots, sumo wrestling has evolved over time to become a popular spectator sport in Japan. Matches are broadcast on television, and many people attend tournaments to watch the wrestlers in action. The sport has also gained international recognition, with foreign wrestlers competing in Japan and Japanese wrestlers competing in international tournaments.

Overall, sumo wrestling is a unique and fascinating sport that embodies the spirit of Japanese culture and tradition. It is a testament to the strength, skill, and dedication of the wrestlers who compete in it, and continues to captivate audiences both in Japan and around the world.

Football (Soccer)

Football, also known as soccer in some countries, is one of the most popular sports in Japan today. It is played by two teams, each consisting of eleven players, and the objective is to score goals by kicking the ball into the opposing team’s net. The game is governed by a set of rules and regulations that are enforced by the referee.

In Japan, football has a long history and has been played since the late 19th century. The Japan Football Association (JFA) was established in 1921, and the country’s national team has participated in several international competitions, including the FIFA World Cup.

Despite its popularity, football has faced challenges in Japan, including low participation rates among young people and a lack of investment in the sport. However, efforts have been made to promote football in the country, including the establishment of youth development programs and the construction of new stadiums.

Football is also a popular spectator sport in Japan, with many professional leagues and teams. The J.League, which was established in 1992, is the top professional football league in Japan and features teams from throughout the country. Matches are held in stadiums across Japan, and attract large crowds of fans who support their favorite teams.

In addition to the J.League, there are also several other professional football leagues in Japan, including the Japan Football League and the Regional Leagues. These leagues provide opportunities for players to compete at a high level and develop their skills.

Overall, football is a popular and well-established sport in Japan, with a long history and a dedicated following. Efforts are being made to promote the sport and encourage participation, particularly among young people, in order to ensure its continued growth and success in the country.

Traditional Sports in Japan


Kendo is a traditional Japanese martial art that involves the use of bamboo swords, known as shinai, and protective armor, known as bogu. The sport is rooted in ancient Japanese swordsmanship and is considered one of the most popular and well-known traditional sports in Japan.

Kendo is not just about fighting, but also about discipline, respect, and self-control. It is practiced by people of all ages and genders, from children to adults, and is considered a great way to improve physical fitness, mental focus, and discipline.

In Kendo, players use a variety of techniques, including strikes, thrusts, and kicks, to score points against their opponents. The goal of the game is to score points by striking the opponent’s head, throat, or torso with the shinai.

The rules of Kendo are complex and require a high level of skill and strategy. Players must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, including wearing the proper protective gear, following a specific bowing ritual before and after the match, and using only certain parts of the body to strike the opponent.

Kendo is also known for its unique vocabulary, with many terms specific to the sport. For example, “men” refers to the point scored by hitting the opponent’s head, “kote” refers to the gloves worn to protect the hands, and “shinai” refers to the bamboo sword used in the sport.

Overall, Kendo is a highly respected and beloved traditional sport in Japan, and is practiced by many people both in Japan and around the world.


Judo is a martial art and a traditional sport in Japan that originated in the late 19th century. It is a combat sport that involves throwing, grappling, and ground fighting techniques. Judo is based on the principles of using leverage and balance to defeat an opponent, and it emphasizes the use of technique over strength.

Judo is a popular sport in Japan, with many people practicing it as a form of exercise and self-defense. It is also popular internationally, with the International Judo Federation (IJF) overseeing the sport worldwide.

Judo competitions involve two opponents facing off against each other on a mat. The objective is to throw or takedown the opponent to the ground, or to immobilize them by holding them in a specific position for a set period of time. Points are awarded for successful throws and holds, and the winner is determined by the number of points scored.

In addition to its physical benefits, judo also promotes mental discipline and focus, as well as the development of important life skills such as respect, humility, and self-control.


Origins of Archery in Japan

Archery has a long and storied history in Japan, dating back to the Stone Age. It is believed that the practice of archery originated in Japan around 3000 BCE, during the Jomon period. The bow and arrow were initially used for hunting and warfare, but over time, archery evolved into a sport and a way of life.

Traditional Archery in Japan

Traditional archery in Japan is known as Kyudo, which translates to “the way of the bow.” Kyudo is a form of martial art that emphasizes spiritual development, discipline, and mindfulness. Practitioners of Kyudo aim to develop a deep understanding of the body, mind, and spirit through the practice of archery.

Equipment Used in Kyudo

In Kyudo, the traditional Japanese bow is called a Yumi. The Yumi is made from wood, bamboo, or composite materials, and is typically about 6 feet long. The bowstring is made from hemp or nylon, and the arrows are called “Ya” and are typically made from bamboo with feathers or vanes attached to the ends.

Techniques and Styles of Kyudo

Kyudo involves a series of precise movements and techniques that require both physical and mental discipline. Practitioners of Kyudo strive to develop a sense of harmony between body and mind, and to focus their attention on the present moment. There are several schools of Kyudo, each with its own unique techniques and styles.

Kyudo Tournaments and Competitions

Kyudo tournaments and competitions are held throughout Japan, with the largest and most prestigious competition being the All Japan Kyudo Championship. The tournaments are divided into individual and team events, and competitors are judged on their accuracy, technique, and mental focus.

Popularity of Archery in Japan

Archery remains a popular sport and pastime in Japan, with thousands of practitioners participating in Kyudo clubs and organizations throughout the country. The popularity of archery in Japan has also spread to other parts of the world, with Kyudo clubs and organizations now found in many countries around the globe.

The Significance of Traditional Sports in Japan

Japan’s traditional sports have played a significant role in the country’s cultural heritage and social fabric. These sports have been passed down through generations and are deeply ingrained in Japanese society. The significance of traditional sports in Japan can be attributed to several factors, including their role in promoting physical and mental well-being, preserving cultural traditions, and fostering social interaction and community building.

One of the primary reasons why traditional sports are significant in Japan is that they promote physical and mental well-being. Many of these sports, such as judo, kendo, and sumo, require physical strength, agility, and endurance. Participating in these sports helps to develop physical fitness, improve coordination, and enhance overall health. Moreover, traditional sports in Japan often have a strong spiritual and philosophical component, emphasizing the importance of discipline, respect, and self-control. This emphasis on mental discipline and self-improvement can contribute to the development of strong character and resilience.

Traditional sports in Japan also play a crucial role in preserving cultural traditions. These sports have evolved over centuries and are deeply rooted in Japanese history and culture. Many of these sports have religious or spiritual significance, such as Shinto influences in sumo wrestling or the Buddhist principles underlying kendo. By participating in these sports, individuals can connect with their cultural heritage and learn about the traditions and values that underpin Japanese society. Furthermore, traditional sports serve as a means of promoting cultural exchange and understanding between different communities in Japan and other countries.

Finally, traditional sports in Japan foster social interaction and community building. These sports are often practiced in clubs or dojos, where individuals can train and compete together. This sense of community is essential in Japanese society, where social bonds and relationships are highly valued. Participating in traditional sports provides opportunities for individuals to meet and interact with others who share similar interests and values. Additionally, traditional sports often involve tournaments and competitions, where individuals can showcase their skills and compete against others. This sense of competition and camaraderie can foster a strong sense of teamwork and mutual respect among participants.

In conclusion, the significance of traditional sports in Japan cannot be overstated. These sports promote physical and mental well-being, preserve cultural traditions, and foster social interaction and community building. By participating in these sports, individuals can connect with their cultural heritage, develop strong character and resilience, and build meaningful relationships with others.

Cultural Significance

Japan’s traditional sports are deeply ingrained in the country’s cultural and historical heritage. They serve as a reflection of Japan’s unique customs, traditions, and values, and often carry significant symbolic meanings. The cultural significance of these sports extends beyond the physical aspect of the games, encompassing various aspects of Japanese society, including history, philosophy, and art.

Martial Arts

One of the most prominent traditional sports in Japan is martial arts. The country has a rich history of martial arts, with various forms of self-defense and combat techniques dating back to ancient times. Martial arts such as Karate, Judo, and Kendo have become symbols of Japanese culture, and are practiced both as sports and as means of self-improvement.


Sumo is another traditional sport that holds significant cultural significance in Japan. It is a form of wrestling that originated in Japan over 1,500 years ago, and has since become a national sport. Sumo is not only a physical competition but also a symbol of Japanese culture, with its rituals, ceremonies, and traditional clothing. The sport is deeply ingrained in Japanese society, and its champions are regarded as national heroes.

Traditional Archery

Traditional archery, also known as Kyudo, is another traditional sport that holds cultural significance in Japan. Kyudo is a disciplined practice that combines physical technique with mental focus and spiritual awareness. It is considered a way of life, rather than just a sport, and is often practiced as a form of meditation or spiritual pursuit.

Festival Sports

Many traditional sports in Japan are closely associated with local festivals and celebrations. These sports, known as festival sports, are often played during local festivals and are steeped in tradition. Examples of festival sports include Soba-making, Bon Odori dancing, and Noh theatre. These sports provide a sense of community and shared experience, bringing people together to celebrate and preserve local customs and traditions.

In conclusion, Japan’s traditional sports are not only physical competitions but also reflections of the country’s cultural heritage. They hold significant cultural significance, symbolizing Japan’s customs, traditions, and values. From martial arts to festival sports, these traditional sports serve as a reminder of Japan’s unique cultural identity and are an integral part of the country’s rich cultural heritage.

Modern-Day Relevance

Although many traditional sports in Japan have evolved over time, they continue to play a significant role in Japanese culture and society. Today, these sports are not only practiced by the locals but also enjoyed by tourists who wish to experience the unique aspects of Japanese culture. In addition, modern-day relevance is seen in the incorporation of traditional sports into various events and competitions, both local and international.

One notable example is the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, where the “Yuki Matsuri” or “Snow Festival” features traditional snow sculptures, ice carving competitions, and even a “snow shoe” race, where participants race across a snow-covered course while wearing traditional snow shoes. Similarly, the “Nobi Nobi” festival in Okayama celebrates the region’s traditional martial arts by hosting a sumo wrestling tournament.

Furthermore, traditional sports have become a part of modern-day physical education programs in schools. Children are taught the fundamentals of these sports and encouraged to participate in local tournaments and competitions. This not only promotes physical fitness but also helps preserve the cultural heritage of these sports.

Overall, the modern-day relevance of traditional sports in Japan can be seen in their integration into various aspects of Japanese culture and society, including tourism, festivals, education, and international competitions. By continuing to practice and promote these sports, Japan ensures that its cultural heritage remains alive and relevant for future generations.

Future of Sports in Japan

Emerging Sports in Japan

While traditional sports like sumo and kendo continue to thrive in Japan, a new generation of athletes is embracing a variety of emerging sports that reflect the country’s diverse cultural influences and changing lifestyle. From extreme sports to esports, here are some of the emerging sports that are gaining popularity in Japan:

  • Parkour: Also known as free-running, parkour is a sport that involves moving through obstacle courses by jumping, climbing, and running. With the rise of urbanization and the popularity of action movies, parkour has gained a dedicated following in Japan, with many practitioners participating in competitions and training sessions.
  • Skateboarding: Skateboarding has been growing in popularity in Japan for several years, with many young people embracing the sport as a way to express themselves and their individuality. In addition to traditional skateparks, many cities are now creating new spaces for skateboarders to practice their tricks and stunts.
  • Esports: As gaming culture continues to grow in Japan, esports has emerged as a new form of competitive sports. From online games like League of Legends and Dota 2 to console games like Street Fighter and Tekken, esports tournaments are attracting large crowds and significant sponsorship deals.
  • Yoga: With the growing interest in wellness and mindfulness, yoga has become a popular activity in Japan. Many studios now offer a variety of classes, from traditional Hatha yoga to more dynamic Vinyasa and Power yoga.
  • Rock climbing: As more people seek out outdoor adventures, rock climbing has become a popular sport in Japan. With many mountain ranges and climbing gyms available, rock climbing has become a way for many to challenge themselves physically and mentally.

These emerging sports reflect the changing interests and lifestyles of Japan’s younger generation, who are looking for new ways to express themselves and engage with their communities. As these sports continue to grow in popularity, they may become an important part of Japan’s sporting culture in the years to come.

Olympic Games and Japan

Japan has a long and storied history with the Olympic Games, dating back to the 1940 Tokyo Games, which were ultimately cancelled due to World War II. Since then, Japan has hosted the Olympic Games twice, in 1964 and 2020, with the latter being postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Japanese government has invested heavily in sports infrastructure in recent years, with the aim of hosting a successful Olympic Games and promoting sports throughout the country. In addition to the new National Stadium, which was built for the 2020 Games, a number of other sports facilities have been constructed or renovated, including the Ariake Arena and the Odaiba Marine Park.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the future of sports in Japan, with many events and competitions being cancelled or postponed. The Japanese government has implemented strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including limits on spectators at sporting events, which has had a major impact on the revenue generated by these events.

Despite these challenges, the Japanese government remains committed to promoting sports and hosting major international events, including the 2025 World Expo in Osaka and the 2026 Winter Olympics in Turin. In the coming years, it is likely that we will see continued investment in sports infrastructure and a focus on promoting sports as a means of promoting health and wellness, as well as cultural exchange and international cooperation.

Impact of Sports on Japanese Society

  • Boosting National Pride
    • Japan’s traditional sports serve as a symbol of national pride, promoting cultural heritage and a sense of identity for the Japanese people.
    • Success in international competitions, such as the Olympics, enhances the country’s image and fosters a sense of national unity.
  • Economic Impact
    • Sports events and tournaments contribute significantly to the Japanese economy, generating revenue through ticket sales, merchandise, and tourism.
    • Large-scale sporting events like the Olympics create employment opportunities and stimulate infrastructure development.
  • Promoting Health and Fitness
    • Sports play a crucial role in promoting a healthy lifestyle among the Japanese population, with numerous sports facilities and programs available for all age groups.
    • Government initiatives encourage participation in sports, aiming to combat issues such as obesity and sedentary lifestyles.
  • Social Interaction and Community Building
    • Sports provide a platform for social interaction and community building, allowing individuals to connect with others who share similar interests and values.
    • Participation in sports can help to break down social barriers and foster a sense of belonging among individuals from diverse backgrounds.
  • Developing Youth Talent
    • Japan’s focus on sports as a means of nurturing young talent has led to the establishment of numerous sports schools and training programs.
    • These programs aim to identify and cultivate future sporting champions, while also promoting the importance of education and discipline.
  • Enhancing International Relations
    • Japan’s involvement in international sports competitions and events serves as a means of building relationships with other countries and promoting diplomacy.
    • Sports diplomacy can help to bridge cultural and political differences, fostering mutual understanding and cooperation between nations.


1. What is Japan’s traditional sport?

Japan’s traditional sport is Sumo. Sumo is a competitive wrestling sport where two wrestlers compete in a circular ring. The objective of the game is to force the opponent out of the ring or onto the ground. Sumo has a long history in Japan and is considered a national sport.

2. When was Sumo first introduced in Japan?

Sumo has been practiced in Japan for over 1500 years. It originated as a martial art and later evolved into a competitive sport. The first recorded Sumo matches date back to the Nara period (710-794).

3. What are the rules of Sumo?

The rules of Sumo are relatively simple. The match begins with both wrestlers facing each other and pushing or slapping their chest to intimidate their opponent. The first wrestler to touch the ground with any part of their body other than their feet loses the match. Sumo matches are also decided by a referee’s decision if no clear winner is determined.

4. What is the weight category system in Sumo?

In Sumo, wrestlers are divided into six weight categories. The categories are based on the wrestler’s body weight and are as follows:
* Lightest: up to 114 kg
* Second Lightest: 115-130 kg
* Third Lightest: 131-145 kg
* Middleweight: 146-157 kg
* Heavyweight: 158-175 kg
* Super Heavyweight: 176 kg and above

5. How is the winner determined in Sumo?

The winner of a Sumo match is determined by a referee’s decision if no clear winner is determined. The referee considers factors such as the wrestler’s technique, strength, and performance to determine the winner. The wrestler who forces their opponent out of the ring or onto the ground is also considered the winner.

From Kyudo to Kemari | Top 5 Traditional Japanese Sports

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