Having already hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972 and 1988 and the Summer Olympics in 1964, Japan is set to entertain the world once more when Tokyo takes center stage in 2020. This will put them in third place on the list of countries to have hosted the Olympics the most, a testament to this sport-loving country. With Japan also set to host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, there are clearly a wide number of sports in Japan that they enjoy. Below are just a couple of the country’s most popular sports and how to catch them.
Baseball in Japan
Just like many other elements of Japanese culture today, the country’s most popular sport was imported from America. Introduced to the Kaisei Academy by educator Horace Wilson in 1872, baseball spread quickly as a school sport before the first professional league was formed in 1934.
This was eventually reformed into the Nippon Professional Baseball League in 1950, which still exists today. Divided into two conferences of 6 teams each, the baseball season begins in April with each team playing 144 games before the play-offs in October and a winner is announced. Four of the twelve teams are based in Tokyo itself (and one nearby in Yokohama), two in Osaka, and one each in Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Nagoya, Sapporo, and Sendai.
They are spread out across the whole country and games are very regular during the season, so chances of seeing a game are good. Tickets can be bought at https://japanball.com/tickets/ but they charge a mark-up fee, so managing to navigate the ticket machines in convenience stores in the country proves much cheaper.
Football in Japan
Despite being supposedly first played on the islands of Japan as long ago as 1873, football took a much longer time than baseball to gain national approval. The Japan Soccer League came into existence in 1965 but was strictly amateur; it wasn’t until the formation of the J-League in 1992 that Japanese football was first made professional.
Today, there are 18 teams throughout the country and similarly to baseball, they span all the way from the northern island of Hokkaido to Fukuoka in the south. Fixtures take place between late February and December, and games are usually once per week; so whenever you arrive in Japan your chances of seeing a game are high. Seven of these teams, including the legendary Urawa Red Diamonds, play their football near Tokyo.
The J-League is widely regarded as being one of the highest-quality leagues in Asia, with Japanese teams regularly winning the AFC Asian Champions League.
Sumo in Japan
Contrary to what you might think, sumo in Japan is far from the most popular sport, usually sitting a distant third behind baseball and football. The archaic and formal nature of both the sport and the viewing of it, alongside recent struggles of home-born wrestlers, has seen a decline in popularity.
On top of this, there are relatively few opportunities to see a sumo bout take place. There are just six ‘Grand Tournaments’ during a calendar year; three in Tokyo (held in January, May and September), one in Osaka (in March), one in Nagoya (in July) and one in Fukuoka (in November).
Tickets can be purchased online at https://buysumotickets.com/ but those looking for cheap tickets should arrive at the stadium early in the morning of a day’s competition and queue up for the limited number of ‘jiyu seki’ tickets. Outside of tournaments, it’s possible to see sumo training in certain venues across the country or in exhibitional ‘bashos’ which are usually held in some of the most remote areas of the country.
Rugby in Japan
With the 2019 World Cup fast approaching, Japan is aiming to build on its headline-grabbing victory over rugby giants South Africa in 2015. In addition to the professional ‘Top League’ which consists of 16 teams, Tokyo is also home to Asia’s first ‘Super Rugby’ team in the form of the Sunwolves who play against some of the best teams in the Southern Hemisphere.
Introduced hastily in 2015, the Sunwolves are part of a wider appeal to strengthen rugby’s popularity in Japan and Asia, playing their home games in both Tokyo’s Chichibunomiya Stadium and Singapore’s National Stadium. The experiment has so far, proved unsuccessful as the team has managed just one victory in each season so far. Nevertheless, the Sunwolves and rugby, in general, have great potential in Japan and the 2019 World Cup is sure to be a great spectacle.
Sports in Japan
With so many incredible sights to see, museums to explore, and new tastes to discover, many tourists forget to experience Japanese sports while they’re visiting. While it’s well-known that most Japanese workers don’t get much time off work, the little time they do have is often spent watching or playing sports.
Japan’s national baseball, football, and rugby teams are some of the best in the world, while the ‘Grand Tournaments’ display the planet’s most fearsome (and only) sumo wrestlers. The rules may change and the stadiums may differ but the atmosphere during any one of Japan’s national sports is truly something worth witnessing for yourself. If you would like to get active as well during your Japan trip, we can recommend going jogging in Tokyo.