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Last updated : Nov 2009
Japan Sports
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Martial arts

Japanese ceremonial wrestling, sumo, and judo are the national sports of Japan. Both drawing large crowds. There are 6 sumo tournaments every year, each lasts for 15 days. 3 of them take place in Tokyo, and the others are held in Fukuoka, Osaka and Nagoya. Matches by senior wrestlers commence at 15:00.

Sumo training sessions can be seen between 05:00 and 10:30 at Kasungo Stable in Tokyo (tel: (3) 3631 1871). Judo enthusiasts can visit the Kodokan Judo Hall, 1-16-30, Kasuga, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo (tel: (3) 3818 4172), and sit in the spectators’ gallery. Visitors can purchase a costume and learn some of the techniques. There are separate classes held for men and women and in many large schools English is spoken. Details can be obtained from the All Japan Judo Federation.

Karate, the art of self-defence, is taught at schools in Japan and has been a very popular sport since its introduction to the country in 1922. For additional information contact the Japan Karatedo Federation. Kendo, Japanese fencing, is practised in many clubs and college halls. In December, the All-Japan Championships take place in Tokyo.

Kyudo, Japanese archery, is among the oldest martial arts. It is closely associated with Zen Buddhism. Unlike most martial arts, it is taken up by by almost as many female students as males. Yabusame, or archery on horseback, which was first performed by courtiers or imperial guards in the 7th century, is presently a Shinto rite to ensure peace and good harvests. It is performed by horsemen wearing colourful costumes who gallop down a narrow 250 metre course shooting at small wooden targets set up at 80 metre intervals. The most popular events are at Tsurugaoka Hachmagu shrine in Kamakura held on the third Sunday in April and on 16 September and at the Shimogano Shrine in Kyoto on 3 May.


These are extremely popular and there are more than 50 major ski resorts, particularly in the Japanese Alps and on the northern island of Hokkaido. Among the great attractions is the abundance of hot springs in the skiing areas.

Many resorts at Nagana in Central Honshu offer facilities for night-skiing. The southernmost natural ski slope in Japan is the Gokase Highland Ski, in the north Miyazaki prefecture, which has grass skiing out of season from late April to November.

Transport connections are excellent, and there are sometimes railway stations only a few minutes walk from the slopes. During the ski season, it is necessary to reserve seats on buses and trains. Although equipment is easy to rent, it can sometimes be difficult to obtain ski boots in larger sizes; skiers should call the resort in advance to ensure availability.

Diving and snorkelling are popular around the Kerama Islands near Okinawa, which is among the world’s clearest sea areas. From January to March, it is also a great area for whale watching. All types of fishing is available, and there are lots of keen anglers in Japan. Freshwater fish include, funa (silver carp), trout and ayu (sweetfish).

Due to the shape of the country, fishing opportunities are never far away. Travellers may like to try ukai or cormorant fishing, a style of fishing where cormorants are used to catch fish. The cormorants and the crew do the work and the passengers watch. Food and drinks are provided. Expeditions depart in the evening and can be booked through hotels and tourist boards in the Kyoto area.


Cycling is popular in April and May during the cherry blossom season and also in October and November when autumnal colours adorn Japan. Because of snow and ice, cycling in Hokkaido and in the northern area of the main island, Honshu, is not advised from December to March. Cyclists should keep to the left and must be careful because of heavy traffic, particularly on the national highways. There are many interesting paths routed through Toyko.


Japan co-hosted the 2002 World Cup with Korea (Rep). Football has become increasingly popular in Japan in recent years with the introduction of the Japanese soccer J-League and the involvement of the Japanese national team in the World Cup competition of 1998 and 2002.


Courses in and around Tokyo are thought by many to be among the most demanding in the world. A membership or invitation is sometimes required. Some courses have the added attraction of hot spring baths and mahjhong rooms. For additional information, please contact the Japan Golf Association (tel: (3) 3215 0003; facsimile: (3) 3214 2831).

Cultural activities

Among the traditional entertainments available is bunraku, a unique style of puppet theatre. This can be seen in the larger towns, as can noh drama and kabuki, traditional Japanese drama forms, with participants wearing medieval costumes.

The most amazing and colourful of Japan’s religious festivals is held in Kyoto, the old imperial capital. The Gion Festival reaches its peak on 16-17 July. A street parade is held with the participants dressed in fine costumes and carrying portable shrines. The huge floats depict ancient themes.

The Aoi (or hollyhock) Festival on 15 May dates back to the 6th century. The procession, made up of imperial messengers in oxcarts followed by a retinue of 600 people wearing traditional costumes, departs at around 10:00 from the imperial palace and heads for the Shimogamo-jinja shrine where ceremonies are held. It then proceeds to Kamigamo-jinja shrine.

The Jidai Festival (Festival of the Ages) is of more recent origin, though still magnificent to see. Over 2,000 people parade through the town wearing costumes dating from different periods. For dates of additional festivals, see Special Events in the Social Profile section.

Those wishing to see the Japanese tea ceremony can arrange to do so with the tourist information centres in Kyoto and Tokyo (see Contact Addresses section). If visitors are interested in eastern religions they can organise a stay at a shukubo (temple lodging). The tourist office will have a complete list of temples offering this service. Occasionally it is possible to participate in meditation sessions.