Sumo wrestlers training in sumo rings

Sports in Japanese Culture

The 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics is fast approaching and the whole of Japan is preparing for the much anticipated event. Traditional sports as well as Western imports like baseball and association football have been a significant part of Japanese culture.

History tells us that the Kamakura period was the beginning for many martial arts with kyūdō (Japanese art of archery) , becoming as popular as kyujutsu (literally bow skill) and was a pastime for the samurai class. Sports during the Edo period became a widespread way to spend time, unfortunately it often went with gambling.


Betting on sumo became a punishable offense and was repeatedly posted as a notice with very little effect. After the Meiji Restoration, different kinds of Western sports were introduced into the country. Sports became a school activity and competitions between universities became widely held.

The Japanese celebrate Health and Sports Day annually every second Monday of October and is a national holiday in Japan.

Kyūdō, “the way of the bow.”

The significance of the Japanese Health and Sports Day is that it commemorates the opening day of the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo on the 10th of October of the same year. Tokyo will yet again be the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Check out some of the popular Japanese sports:

Kyūdō – “the way of the bow,” is Japanese martial art of archery. Experts of the sport are referred to as kyūdōka.   Bows have always been part of Japanese culture as hunting tools and weapons.  You can find many kyūdō training facilities in schools and cultural centers.

Sumo – is a full-contact sport where two male wrestlers (rikishi) try to push each other outside a ring or cause any part of the other’s body to touch the ground aside from the soles of the feet. The ring (dohyo) is elevated and is made of sand and clay. Bouts usually last for a few seconds, although some can take up to several minutes.

Association Football – one of the most popular sports in Japan, it was introduced by O-yatoi gaikokujin (foreign advisors hired by the Japanese government) along with other Western sports like baseball. The first Japanese football club Tokyo Shūkyū-dan, was founded in 1917.