Japan, the land of the rising sun, is a country of contrasts and balance, where the ancient and the modern sit side by side, influencing and enriching each other. This nation’s beauty stretches far beyond its picturesque landscapes and historic landmarks, extending into its sporting culture. If you’re planning a trip to Japan and have a knack for sports, here are five awesome activities that you absolutely must experience.
1. Sumo Wrestling
Arguably Japan’s most iconic sport, sumo wrestling dates back to the ancient Shinto religion. It’s not just a sport but a ritual, a cultural spectacle filled with history and tradition. In Tokyo, you can visit the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the sumo hall where grand tournaments are held thrice yearly. Attend a live match for an unparalleled experience. If you’re interested in a more hands-on experience, visit a “beya” or training stable, where wrestlers practice early in the morning.
2. Samurai Sword Training
Embrace the way of the samurai with traditional sword training. Katanas, the samurai’s weapon of choice, have a rich history and are a symbol of the samurai’s honor and duty. In Kyoto, there are several dojos that offer visitors the opportunity to experience Iaido, the art of drawing the sword.
A Iaido class isn’t just about handling a sword, but also about understanding the spirit of the samurai – respect, discipline, and mindfulness. Remember, it’s not about strength, but technique, making it a suitable experience for a wide range of ages and physical abilities. It’s a unique way to connect with Japan’s samurai heritage and take part in a living tradition. Don’t worry, you won’t be using actual katana swords but should you want an authentic blade, you can always buy one online after your trip!
Often surprising to those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, baseball is one of the country’s most beloved sports. Brought to Japan by an American professor in the late 1800s, it has since evolved into a unique spectacle. Teams like the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers enjoy almost cult-like status, and attending a Nippon Professional Baseball league game, with fans’ coordinated cheers and the stadium’s electric atmosphere, can be an unforgettable experience.
4. Martial Arts
The land of the samurai offers myriad opportunities to dive into martial arts, each rooted in Japan’s deep history and philosophical concepts. You can enroll in short courses for Judo, Karate, Kendo, or Aikido in dojos across the country. For those looking for a gentler approach, try Kyudo (Japanese archery) which focuses on concentration, precision, and calmness, rather than physical strength.
5. Skiing and Snowboarding
With its world-class resorts and stunning alpine landscapes, Japan is a paradise for snow sports enthusiasts. Hokkaido, the northernmost island, is renowned for its powder snow, making it ideal for skiing and snowboarding. Niseko, Rusutsu, and Furano are among the popular resorts. Alternatively, head to the Japanese Alps in Honshu for resorts like Hakuba and Shiga Kogen. Don’t forget to unwind in an “onsen,” or hot spring bath, after a day on the slopes.
Japan’s diverse terrain makes it an attractive destination for cycling enthusiasts. Experience the breath-taking Shimanami Kaido, a 70-kilometer route connecting the main island of Honshu to the island of Shikoku. This route lets you cycle across the Seto Inland Sea via a series of stunning bridges and islands, offering unparalleled coastal views. In the cities, renting a bike for a leisurely tour can also be a refreshing way to see the sights at your own pace.
These five sports activities offer not just the thrill and fun of the sport itself, but also provide a window into Japan’s rich cultural fabric. From the ritualistic grandeur of sumo wrestling to the serene focus of martial arts, from the frenzied excitement of a baseball game to the tranquil rhythm of a bike ride, each of these experiences is an immersion into a facet of Japanese life.
So the next time you’re in Japan, take the plunge and dive headlong into its sports culture. Whether you’re an ardent sports enthusiast or a casual tourist looking to try something new, Japan’s sporting world promises to be a highlight of your trip.