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What are the most played sports in Japan?

The Japanese culture is made up of different intrinsic aspects. The Land of the Rising Sun is home to a rich history, amazing architecture, stunning works of art, unique traditions, and a generally respectful society.

Another huge part of the Japanese culture is the country’s fascination with sporting activities. There are several popular sports that make up Japan’s list of favorite recreational pastimes, but some are considered more like religion rather than just another sport.

So, limber up and prepare your sports drinks, readers! In this article, we’ll cover the most played sports in Japan today.

Baseball


Baseball or Yakyū, as it’s locally known, has consistently been one of Japan’s most popular sports ever since it was first introduced by English professor Horace Wilson in 1872. Baseball’s popularity in Japan has become so massive that, currently, the game receives more love in the Land of the Rising Sun than the country that it originated from – the United States.

Japan’s love for the sport is evident by the number of Japanese who have played for Major League Baseball (MLB), the world’s biggest baseball league. A total of 58 Japanese professionals have played for the MLB, and there are 6 active players as of today.

Millions of Japanese locals tune in and spectate the 12 teams comprising the country’s premier league, Nippon Professional Baseball. Additionally, a lot of high school students also participate in tournaments pitting them against other institutions. These high school amateur games are not just played on a regional level but also on a national scale.

Football/Soccer


Football or soccer (depending on who you ask) is considered to be the world’s most popular sport. Billions of people all over the globe are passionate about this game so it would come as no surprise that Japan is also a football-crazed nation.

There have been many great soccer players throughout Japan’s history. In fact, ever since first appearing in the World Cup tournament in 1998, the Japanese Men’s National Football Team has managed to accomplish the daunting task of surviving until the Round of 16 three times already. The team has also participated in every World Cup tournament since its initial appearance.

The Japanese Women’s National Football Team have also been impressive on the world stage. They won the coveted Women’s World Cup in 2011, becoming the first Asian team to accomplish such a feat. 4 years later, they reached the next World Cup Final again but lost to the United States. They also set foot on the Round of 16 in 2019 but lost to the eventual runner-ups, the Netherlands.

With both the national teams attaining unprecedented success, football’s popularity in the country will surely continue to grow and Japan’s future in soccer will undoubtedly shine more in the upcoming decades.

Sumo Wrestling


Sumo wrestling is a recreational activity completely unique to the country, as nowhere else in the world can you see 2 huge athletes vying for position in a Japanese version of amateur wrestling.

The concept of Japan’s national sport is fairly straightforward. Two wrestlers enter the ring or dohyo and the first one to step beyond the “out of bounds” line or touch any part of the ring other than their feet loses.

Hundreds of people attend sumo wrestling events not just because of the bigger than life athletes of the sport, but also of how fast-paced and exciting it is. Most sumo wrestling matches only last for a few seconds and rarely does it go over a minute.

Although there are only 42 active professionals in Japan, there are hundreds more amateur wrestlers all over the country waiting for the right window of opportunity and more young individuals who aspire to turn pro someday. But sumo wrestling’s impact goes beyond the Japanese demographic, there are fans all over the planet and many foreigners have also tried their hand in professional sumo in the country.

Martial Arts


Although sumo wrestling is the main martial art and national sport in the Land of the Rising Sun, there are also other Japanese disciplines that have become quite synonymous with the country and are universally-recognized.

One of the most famous martial arts is karate. It rose to international prominence during the ’80s when dozens of Hollywood movies featured the striking-based martial art. Karate captivated and inspired millions of people, especially the Japanese. To this day, over 50 million people practice this fighting style around the world.

Another popular martial art is judo. Aside from millions of people trying to learn the combat sport in dojos, many of the best Japanese mixed martial artists have successfully mastered the art of judo to enhance their craft.

An art that isn’t necessarily accepted by the martial arts community and has merely been accepted as a legitimate sport is professional wrestling. Although pro wrestling is considered to be more of a performance art and “soap opera” for men, the athleticism and physicality involved should make sports fans think that there is more to pro wrestling than just acting and storylines.

Thousands of aspirants train every day to reach the heights of an organization like New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). Legends such as Antonio Inoki, Tetsuya Naito, Jushin Liger, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, and Hiroshi Tanahashi made their names in NJPW and have inspired others to follow in their footsteps.

Conclusion

Many sports have captured the hearts and imagination of the Japanese people. One sporting event can bring hundreds and even thousands of people together whose shared experience will be etched on their memories for the rest of their lives. For many, sports are not just games and pastimes but are a way of life. Sports such as baseball, football, sumo wrestling, and martial arts will undoubtedly continue to bring in more enthusiasts and players in the future.

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