– – The 5 most popular sports in Japan





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The 5 most popular sports in Japan

Japan has a vibrant culture and history with sports being a big part of it. In fact, the country has been the host of many great sporting events including the 1964 Summer Olympics, the 1972 and 1988 Winter Olympics, the Soccer World Cup in 2002, and most recently, the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

But apart from hosting huge sporting events, which sports are popular among the people of Japan? There are several sports that Japanese people enjoy all year round, both as competitors and spectators, some of which might come as a surprise.

1. Baseball

First up is baseball! This sport is so popular amongst spectators and competitors that many consider it an unofficial national sport. Originally introduced in Japan in 1872, baseball is a highly respected sport known as puro yakyu or yakyu, however, most people would understand what you meant if you said “baseball.”

Thousands of spectators flock to the baseball league games at weekends and during the summer months, high school baseball is super popular. Fun fact – Japanese baseball is different from its American counterpart in that it features a smaller strike zone, playing field, and ball.

Given the popularity of this sport, it comes as no surprise that betting on it has surged in popularity. Many of the most popular bookmakers suitable for Japanese users will offer odds on the NPB and MLB, allowing fans to back their favorite teams, players, or choose the number of home runs or strikeouts they think might happen, for example.

2. Soccer

Soccer, also known as sakkā or futtobōru, is another popular sport in Japan. Long before it was an established sport, Japan had its own style of soccer called kickball, or kemari, which then evolved into the contemporary version we know today.

Although soccer associations were formed during the 1920s, Japan didn’t have a national team until 1930. In 1936, the country debuted at the Olympic Games in Berlin where the team celebrated their first win of 3-2 against Sweden.

In December 2022, a survey showed that nearly 50% of Japanese respondents had watched the Japanese soccer team on the internet or TV in the previous 12 months.

3. Figure skating

A much-loved sport in Japan, figure skating is enjoyed by many people, young and old. In fact, in 2021, approximately 24% of Japanese people between the ages of 18 and 79 said they liked watching figure skating and other ice sports on the internet or TV.

The 2023 World Figure Skating Championship showed that Japan takes the sport very seriously by winning three out of four ice disciplines for the first time.

4. Sumo wrestling

Japan’s national sport, sumo wrestling, came from the Shinto ritual that involved a mere human wrestling with a god. Sumo tournaments started becoming popular in the 17th century in Tokyo, and every year six big sumo tournaments are held across Japan. Three of these events are held in Tokyo, one in Fukuoka, one in Osaka, and one in Aichi.

Unlike other combat sports, there are no weight classes in sumo wrestling and one of the things that makes it so fascinating is the impressive performances of smaller competitors. Technique, speed, agility, and sheer wiliness are used to occasionally outperform much bigger opponents. Like team sports, betting on sumo wrestling is also pretty popular in Japan and further afield. In Nevada, one sportsbook reported taking in over 1000 bets over the closing three days of the SUMO Haru Basho 2020 tournament.

5. Tennis

It’s thought that tennis was introduced in Japan in 1878. Five playing courts were installed in the Yamate Park in Yokohama to allow foreigners to participate in the sport. That year, Western-style exercise was introduced in Japan and tennis became a widely taught form of physical activity.

Tennis has also become an important part of Japanese culture – Tennis was the sport in which the country won its first medals at the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920. It was also on a tennis court where Emperor Akihito of Japan was first introduced to the Empress Michiko, in a Karuizawa resort town in 1957. Not only that, but the manga comic series, The Prince of Tennis, has sold more than 50 million copies.

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