6 traditional forms of expression – Japanese sport

Japanese sport – Find your fighting spirit

In our final segment of ‘6 traditional forms of expression’, Inari would like to tell you a bit more about the traditional Japanese sports. Join us in our discovery and find out if there is a sport in this article that you wanted to practice all along but just didn’t know yet.

Different traditional Japanese sports

In this article we chose some of the most popular Japanese sports, we also chose to only talk about martial arts. Be ready to feel your fighting spirit as you read about the five Japanese sports we chose. First of all, we’ll tell you a bit about kendo, a sport that utilises a bamboo sword and one of the most amazing looking armours you can imagine. Secondly, the sport jujutsu will be look at. This sport was the foundation for many modern sports and should be respected as that. The third one is the all-famous sumo. This popular sport is only practised on a professional level in Japan and the wrestlers receive quite some attention in Japan. The second to last sport in this article is karate, a sport that we all grew up with while watching ‘The Karate Kid’. Last but not least, we’ll tell you about kyūdō or the way of the bow. This amazing looking sport is definitely one that deserves a lot of attention.

Kendo – The way of the sword

Kendo (剣道) is a sword fighting sport that is based on the traditional art of kenjutsu or the art of the sword. During the Shotoku Period (1711-1716) Naganuma Shirōzaemon Kunisato, a kenjutsu practitioner, introduced the use of a bamboo sword, or shinai, and an armour, or bogu. to the art and created a special form of training what later would become the standard way of training kendo. A bogu has different parts, a headpiece called men, armour for the hands called kote, armour for the chest called dō and a tare that protects the waist. Underneath the bogu a kendoka wears a hakama, which is a very wide pants, a keikogi which is a form of jacket and a tenugi or headband underneath the men. He also introduced the style exercises called kata that are still being studied to this day. In 1820, Chiba Shusaku Narimasa, a famous sword legend in Japan, introduced Gekiken. A form of full-contact duels with shinai and bogu that received a lot of attention and became quite popular in Japan over the years. These duels are very loud because the kendoka shows fighting spirit by using a kiai or shout. In 1920 this form of kenjutsu was called kendo but it was prohibited in 1946 after the Second World War and was reintroduced in the 50s as a way to pass the time. Today it is believed that globally about 6 million people practice kendo.  You can see some kendo action in this movie.

Japanese sport

Two kendoka fighting in a shiai or match.

Jujutsu – Foundation for a lot of other martial sports

Jujutsu (柔術) is a martial art that can be seen as the foundation for different other martial arts like judo and aikido. In this sport, practitioners use their opponent’s own force against them to defeat them. This form of Japanese sport was created to defeat the Japanese samurai. Because it was inefficient to strike an armour-clad opponent, the users of the sport resort to pins, joint locks and throws. Founded in the Sengoku period (1467-1603), this Japanese sport had quite some different styles and ways of practicing the different techniques, giving birth to Japanese sports like judo. Today this Japanese sport is practised in its traditional and modern form. The students learn a great variety of fatal techniques but since the sport is not practised in a competitive environment, the risk is not that big. Each student also learns every possible way to break a fall to minimise injuries. The name actually means ‘gentle art’ because it uses the power of an opponent instead of using your own force.

An old photograph op people practising jujutsu!

An old photograph op people practising jujutsu!

Sumo – Sport of the stars

Every person has probably heard of sumo (相撲), one of the most famous Japanese sports. In this sport that dates back to Edo period (1603-1868), a wrestler or rikishi tries to force another rikishi out of the ring or on the floor with any other bodypart other than their feet. However, the sport also has more ancient origins in shinto stories and practices. Used as a way to promote the harvest, sumo has been part of the Japanese society for a long time. Sumo is the a sport that is only practices professionally in Japan and has quite a following. The life of a sumo wrestler is actually very interesting. Each and every one of them lives in their dojo and according to their rank have different chores and ways of training. The hierarchy at a dojo or in the sumo rankings is very important and decides everything in the life of a rikishi, such as salary, what type of dress to wear in public, when to wake up, etc. The highest rank in sumo is the rank of Yokozuna. You can easily identify the yokozuna by the shinto rope or shimenawa that is tied around his waist during ceremonies and other formal occasions. Ranked sumo wrestlers are actually as popular as someone can be in Japan.

An amazing view during a sumo match.

An amazing view during a sumo match.

Karate – Enter Mr. Miyagi

Karate (空手), which literally means ’empty hand’ is a martial art that originated from China and was introduced in the Ryukyu Kingdom, now Okinawa, by trade around the 1600s. This form of martial art had a great variety of different styles and schools and focused on hand-to-hand combat with all sorts of punches, kicks and other fighting techniques. Gichin Funakoshi, who founded the Japanese sport of Shotokan karate, brought the martial art to the mainland in the late 19th century and changed a lot of the names for the exercises and kata. He did this because Japan was at war with China at the time and he thought that the Japanese people would not accept a sport with Chinese names for everything. in 1936 he built his dojo in Tokyo and Shotokan karate was named after that building. At the same time, karate was also systematised by adding a white uniform and the coloured belts that signify the rank of the karateka or person who practices karate. A second Japanese school was founded in 1956 by Masutatsu Oyama under the name Kyokushin karate. This style is more physical and is seen as the full contact way of karate. Out of this school, a lot of other styles and schools were established throughout the 20th century. It is thought that between 50 and a 100 million, depending on the source, people practise karate worldwide. Because Okinawa became an important American military site after the Second World War, karate was also introduced to the American soldiers and became a popular way to spend their free time, helping karate to reach the West.

The Japanese Female Karate Team warming up.

The Japanese Female Karate Team warming up.

Kyūdō – The way of the bow

Kyūdō (弓道) or the way of the bow is a Japanese sport that is the oldest one in this article. Japan already used bows in the 6th century BCE and around the 12th century CE, the first school of kyujutsu, or art of the bow, was created by Henmi Kiyomitsu. Throughout the following centuries, the sport was optimised by different schools and war strategist but once the Portuguese arrived in the 16th century CE with their firearms, Japan quickly integrated this new weapon in their military, lowering the use of a bow or yumi. After Japan closed its borders during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), the bow regained some of its popularity but once the borders were opened again in the Meiji period (1968-1912) quickly declined again. It would take until 1949 before the Japanese sport was popularised again. Right now, there are about 133 thousand people who practise the sport in the world. Some prefer the militaristic way of kyūdō, and others follow the more ceremonial styles. The bow or yumi is not to be compared with the Western bow. Standing at more than 2 meters tall, this asymmetric bow is quite hard to handle but it definitely looks awesome when a trained kyūdōka fires and arrow.

Kyudo practitioners out in the field.

Kyudo practitioners out in the field.

This was our short introduction into five amazing Japanese sports that we think should be known by everyone. If we made a mistake about a sport because we don’t don’t practice any of these, feel free to contact us or send us an email at info@inarivzw.be.

Since this was the last article in our column ‘6 traditional forms of expression’, you must be wondering what’s next. Without further ado, our next column will be about 6 Japanese movie directors who deserve a place in your cupboard! Prepare to be amazed by the beautiful Japanese cinema.