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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Sports In Japan
By:Jim Sherard

Watching and participating in various sports are popular activities in Japan enjoyed by people of all ages and walks of life. The origin of sports in Japan dates back to the twelfth century, when military nobility known as samurai introduced events such as kendo, (Japanese stick fencing) kyudo, (archery) and jujustu, ( judo) to the populous. These athletic games were eventually established as martial arts in the Edo period (1600-1868), with the focus on mastering the mental aspects of each activity in hopes of elevating the participant to a nobler, more transcendent level. These sports have been passed down from generation to generation, and still continue to flourish today. Sumo, which also maintains a long history as a traditional martial art, originated approximately 2,000 years ago from a ceremonial dance used to entertain the Shinto gods, and is considered Japan's national sport. Even today the event includes ritualistic elements derived from the Shinto religion, such as tossing salt to the ground at the start of each match as a means of symbolic purification. The rules of sumo are quite basic. Two wrestlers called rikishi face off in a circular ring called a dohyo, and the wrestler who first touches the floor with any body part other than the soles of his feet, or is pushed out of the ring by his opponent loses. The fight itself is usually over within seconds, but on rare occasions can last up to a minute or longer. Six tournaments are held throughout the year, each one lasting 15 days.

Western sports were eventually introduced to Japan with the arrival of the Meiji Restoration, including baseball in 1872. Baseball has since evolved into one of the country's most popular spectator sports, with thousands of enthusiastic fans attending professional games held each season in stadiums found in all major cities throughout the country. Games are also broadcast live on television several times a week, featuring teams from both leagues, (the Central and Pacific), which consist of six teams each. The last few years has also seen a rise in the number of Japanese players who are currently playing successfully in the American Major Leagues, and whose games are covered extensively through the media in Japan. University and high school teams are also numerous, and the All Japan High School Baseball Championship held each summer and televised nationwide is viewed by millions. Competing with baseball as the nations most popular sport is soccer, which made it's debut in 1993 with the introduction of J-League, a professional soccer league consisting of two divisions, J1 and J2. Soccer had been played by amateurs for many years in Japan, but it's appeal gained momentum after Japan's national soccer team participated in the world cup in France for the first time in 1998.

Following closely behind soccer in regard to popularity in Japan is Golf. The bubble economy boom of the 80's and the affluence which followed brought golf quickly into the forefront as one of the most popular games in the country. Enjoyed in the past by only a privileged few, it soon grew in favor among the average “salary man”, who used it as a means of extending his business network by playing a round or two on Sunday with potential clients. Memberships in prestigious clubs at the time were in such demand that they cost anywhere from 100 to 400 million yen, and were sought after by large companies who were hoping to establish themselves in the ranks of those who were often closing more deals on the golf course than in the conference room. Because of the increase in the number of players and limited space available, the prospect of playing golf for the average person in Japan is still an expensive one, the price averaging between 20,000 yen and up for 18 holes, with caddy fees and lunch usually not included. Another consideration when figuring the cost of playing golf in Japan is that of “hole in one insurance”. Those who are fortunate (or unfortunate enough) to sink the elusive “hole in one” celebrate the event by paying for all fellow member's fees that day, as well as bestowing expensive gifts on those present. Consequently insurance was made available to purchase to cover the residual expense for those skillful enough to make this difficult shot.

As well as enjoying golf, baseball, and soccer, the Japanese due to an increase in free time available in recent years are now participating more than ever before in an array of sport related activities including jogging, weight training, long distant running, calisthenics, aerobics, jazz dancing, softball, swimming, badminton, volleyball, cycling, tennis, table tennis, billiards, and bowling. High risk sports such as scuba diving, hang gliding, and horseback riding are also gaining popularity.

Jim Sherard is the author of "Land of the Rising Sun, A Guide to Living and Working in Japan", which can be found at: www.escapeartist.com/e_Books/Living_and_Working_in_Japan/Living_and_Working_in_Japan.html

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