10 unique sports in Japan – univers-japon-shop

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While many Japanese enjoy watching and playing sports such as soccer and baseball, there are also many unique and unusual sports in Japan that originated here and cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Of course, there are many martial arts among Japan’s original sports, some of which have become popular all over the world, but there are also sports and games that you’ve probably never heard of before. Let us introduce you to 10 of Japan’s most unique traditional sports!

1.Bo Taoshi

DozoDomo, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once a year, primary and secondary students have an ‘undokai’ or sports day. On this day, parents, siblings, and sometimes even grandparents come to the school to watch the children compete in all kinds of sports and perform a dance that they rehearse for months. One of the traditional games often played in this undokai is bo taoshi (棒倒し), which is easily one of the most exciting games to play and watch. Originally played by cadets of the Japanese National Defense Army, two main teams compete for control of the other team’s post. The goal of the attacking team is to get to the post within 30 degrees, and the first team to do so wins. Watching large groups of players compete against each other is certainly exciting, similar to the excitement you get when you watch rugby!



Similar to the classic game of skill “diabolo” that many people enjoy around the world, kendama (けん玉) is also a game that requires skill and a lot of practice if you want to get good at it. The kendama consists of a ball, a rope, and a landing spot for the ball, and the object of the game is simple: to catch the ball after letting it go up. There are no hard and fast rules on how to play kendama, and experienced players like to vary it with things like grip on the hilt or ball. Playing with a kendama is known to improve your agility and accuracy, and is even considered a way to train the ability to control robotic arms! You can see people playing kendama in many parks in Japan in their spare time, especially during the New Year holiday season.


If you take it, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps one of the most dangerous traditional Japanese sports is onbashira (御柱), which is only played once every 6 years in the Lake Suwa area of ​​Nagano. During a dedicated festival, 16 large cedars are cut down and brought down the mountain. This is when local participants ride these logs uphill, which sure looks like a lot of fun but also hurts the runners. If you want to witness this exciting but dangerous event, make sure you are in Japan in the Year of the Tiger or the Year of the Monkey in April and head to the Suwa Grand Shrine complex.


Investor, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Who doesn’t love a good snowball fight? In Japan, it surely is, and it’s done in a competitive style with an activity called yukigassen (雪合戦), which simply means “snow fight.” As with dodgeball, which by the way is a popular activity in schools in Japan, there are 2 teams of 7 head to head where players are knocked out of the game when tagged. In order not to waste precious time making the snowballs while playing, 90 of them are made in advance so that once the game has started, players can go all-in. There are real matches involving teams from other snowy countries as well, with the world championship held in Sobetsu, Hokkaido.

5. Golf Park

The golf

Many Japanese office workers like to play golf during work hours and in their spare time to improve their golf swing. But it can seem a bit daunting, especially for beginners, to enter the slightly elitist world of regular golf. So in Japan, they invented park golf (パークゴルフ) in the 1980s, a form of golf where participation is more important than winning and the rules are simpler. Parkers, as the players call themselves, enjoy the natural surroundings at least as much as the game, and since it is less physically demanding, the sport is very popular with retirees.

6. Amounts

famous sumo

A form of competitive wrestling that developed from what was first a religious ritual and then a way of training an army, sumo is inextricably linked to Japanese culture and history. Nowadays, major sumo tournaments are always interspersed with Shinto rituals and it is a very interesting event to watch. In short, the goal is to push your opponent out of the ring or drop them, and this is often done using all sorts of sumo-specific techniques. Fights only last for a short time, so excitement peaks during a fight and during downtime, people in the audience enjoy good food and drinks.

Interested in seeing sumo up close and personal in Japan? We have an amazing tour of a sumo stable where you can watch the wrestlers doing their morning workout routine right in front of you! It really is a special experience that you won’t get anywhere else. Be sure to book early as this tour tends to sell out quickly!

Book here: Visit the Sumo Stable and watch the morning Sumo training!



Many countries have a history of archery as a sport, and Japan is no different. The traditional Japanese sport that uses a very long bow and arrows is kyudo (弓道), which literally means “the way of the bow”), and its history dates back to prehistoric times when people used bows to hunt. Later, bows were used in the many wars that raged in Japan between the 12th and 16th centuries when samurai ruled Japan. Since the Meiji Period, kyudo became a martial art for the public to learn. Today, kyudo is played by children and adults dressed in the traditional hakama costume. People can often be seen on the streets of Japanese cities wearing revealing clothing and equipment when they go to practice kyudo.


Another Japanese martial art derived from war training is kendo (剣道), or ‘the way of the sword’. Used to train samurai in one-on-one combat for many centuries, after the 1950s kendo became a competitive sport. Kendo practitioners wear thick clothing to protect themselves from the opponent’s hard blows and use a bamboo sword to attack. The goal of each fighter is to hit the opponent in certain places on the body without being hit. Whoever has the most points when the match ends wins. As in other Japanese martial arts, it is not only the result of the match that is important, but also how the players behave. Failing to show proper focus and respect leads to reduced points or even suspension, so practicing kendo is also considered a great way to develop a strong and disciplined character.

9. It was dry


What could be more exciting than recurve archery? Archery done on horseback! Yabusame (流鏑馬) developed in Kamakura in the 12th century after the then Shogun realized that his samurai were not skilled enough in archery, which was the first practice for those who lacked warriors and has become become an exciting part of many parties. One such matsuri is held every September 16 at the family temple of the Minamoto clan that founded the sport, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura. Aoi matsuri, one of the 3 biggest festivals in Kyoto, is also famous for Yabusame. Aoi is the sacred plant used at Kamigamo Shrine and Shimogamo Shrine and by the Tokugawa family as their family emblem. The riders fire a burst of 3 arrows at 3 wooden targets while their horses go full speed, which is truly spectacular to watch due to the high level of skill involved.

10. Come here

Chats snakes, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) par flickr

Kemari (蹴鞠) is very similar to a traditional Japanese version of soccer. Probably introduced by the Chinese around the year 600 who already had their version of soccer, the standardized rules appeared from the 13th century. The object of the game is simple, as everyone works as a team to keep a ball in the air without using their hands or arms. Kemari is not a competitive sport, and today you can see people practicing this ancient sport at festivals at Shinto shrines. In spring and autumn, special events held at the Kyoto Imperial Court also have Kemari games!

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