Popular Japanese Sports

Sports have always been an integral part of Japanese culture. When it comes to deciding the national sport of Japan, though, it can be more difficult than first thought. Japan’s sporting history goes from wrestling (including sumo) sports to contemporary favourites like baseball and basketball.

In this blog we’ll have a look at the most popular sports in Japan and examine their varied, intriguing histories.


Sumo (sumō)

japanese sumo sports

Funnily enough, what was once considered the undisputed national sport of Japan is not quite as popular with the younger generation. Sumo was (and probably still is) the first thing that people think of when considering popular sports in Japan, but in recent times the average age of those attending has been well over 50 years old. Sumo wrestling isn’t the big hit that it used to be, although it is still very popular with tourists.

However, this steady decline in the popularity of sumo has really helped promote other sports in Japan. Most come from other countries, and their development is tied deeply to Japan’s rapid industrial and technological growth as a nation.


Baseball (yakyū)

Japanese baseball

Baseball has always been one of the most popular sports in Japan, especially with a younger audience. When looking at the sheer number of Japanese baseball fans, it’s hard to argue against it being the national sport of Japan in modern times. It’s taken a few generations, though! Following its introduction to Japan from the USA in 1872, the popularity of baseball has grown and grown.


Rugby Union (ragubī)

 Japanese Rugby qualifying for the 2015 World Cup

Rugby union had been gradually growing, but took a massive leap forward in popularity following Japan’s shock last-minute win against rugby stalwarts and two-time world champions South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. If you’ve got some spare time, watch the highlights (or even the full match) to get a feel for how, in one moment, a sport became instantly adopted into Japanese folklore.

Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the first tournament since their historic win four years prior. The Brave Blossoms will be hoping to replicate their success, and expect to see packed stadiums and enthusiastic crowds for the duration of the tournament!


Basketball (basukettobōru)

Japanese Basketball

Basketball is another sport that has always been popular in Japan, but its popularity has significantly increased in recent times. This is in part due to increase globalisation in general, but there are some more specific factors.

The rise of immensely popular players such as Yuta Tabuse and Takuya Kawamura has really helped with basketball’s growth in Japan. Tabuse played a few matches in the NBA in the US, which cemented his status as the highest profile Japanese player of all time.

Basketball has slipped into pop culture too, with Slam Dunk being one of the best-selling manga series in history, running from 1990-96. In more modern times, Kuroko’s Basketball has taken up the mantle of being the basketball manga that everyone talks about – especially with its hit adapted anime series.


Football / Soccer (sakkā)

Japanese Women's Soccer

In Japan, the sport is much more commonly known as soccer, despite the fact that it was introduced to the country by British Navy Commander Archibald Lucius Douglas. Post-war American influence on Japan meant that it was increasingly called sakkā instead of shukyu (literally meaning “kick-ball”).

Japanese teams play in the J. League, the most competitive club tournament in Asia – although it is facing increasing competition from the Chinese Super League.

In terms of international football, the Japanese women’s team have more success. The women’s team won the 2011 World Cup and were runners-up in the 2015 edition, and also earned a silver medal at the London 2012 Olympics.


Japan has a great history of sporting prowess, and although sumo is generally accepted as the national sport, the popularity of baseball among modern society is mounting a serious challenge. If you need a gift for a Japanese-loving sportsperson, then take a look at our lucky cats for an inspirational boost, or a super-comfortable kimono to relax in after the big game.

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