Sports play an active role in Japanese society, and their impact can be seen through the prevalence of physical activity and sports media. The most common sports I see promoted are baseball, soccer and sumo wrestling, with others like kendo and tennis receiving substantial attention as well.
I have found a number of differences in the way sports are practiced and consumed in Japan, as opposed to the US. The most striking part of sports in Japan is simply how many people play them. Aside from major and minor league play, organized sports play in the US seems to end after college for most athletes. While in Japan, I have seen large numbers of organized teams consisting of adults, anywhere from their 20’s-40’s, playing regularly on weekends in gigantic, open playing fields. It is not uncommon on Sunday afternoons to witness an entire baseball team, with bats and equipment strapped to their backs, riding down the sidewalk on bicycles.
Another large distinction from the US is Japanese sports media. In the US, consumption of sports generally consists of simply watching teams, major, minor or college level, playing. While watching games and rooting for teams is also a large aspect of sports in Japan, sports consumption extends beyond live and televised games. Sports fiction, in the form of movies, television dramas, anime and manga play a big role in Japanese media, with little equivalent to be found in the US.
The sport I see promoted and played most often in Japan is baseball. Since making an athletic friend, I have been playing baseball every Sunday at various fields in Yokohama and Kawasaki. The team I train with has just nine members, and I often act as a stand-in for players who miss practice. Many small, amateur teams and leagues exist in Japan.
A newfound hobby of mine has been touring Keio University, a massive college campus just behind the Hiyoshi mens’ dorm. On afternoons and weekends, young people of all ages can be found engaging in a variety of sports, including American football and tennis.
One of TUJ’s Office of Student Services activities this semester was the chance to experience the National Sumo Tournament, a widely recognized event tournament in Ryogoku, referred to as Tokyo’s “sumo town.” The rituals performed prior to each individual sumo match build up suspense and anticipation. To those unfamiliar to sumo, the actual matches are surprisingly short, with most resolving in a matter of seconds. Often participants may fall out of the ring, potentially harming judges and the audience.
The TUJ Office also offered tickets to Yokohama Stadium, to watch the Yokohama DeNA Baystars play the Yakult Swallows. Safety was a priority during the game, with loud whistles blown whenever a ball flew into the audience, and multiple police and security personnel rushing to the scene to treat potential injury. I later learned from my athletic friend that Daisuke Mirua, the team’s star pitcher, has a hairstyle resembling Elvis’s.
I have found sports in Japan to be an engaging experience, with an emphasis on teamwork and participation.