What Types Of Sports Do Japanese People Play? (Top 10 Most Popular)

While Japan is known for hosting some of the most highly anticipated sports events, such as the recent Olympics, you might not realize just how popular many sports are in Japan. 

Not only are there sports that people in Japan enjoy watching, but there are also many sports that Japanese people enjoy participating in. Below are some of the most popular sports that Japanese people take part in and enjoy as spectators. 

Baseball

The majority of people who enjoy sports in Japan would agree that baseball is a national favorite. In Japanese, it is known as poro yakyu or just simply yakyu.

Not only do people in Japan enjoy watching baseball games, but they like playing the sport as well. 

There are some differences in how baseball is played in Japan compared to the rest of the world. For starters, they use a smaller baseball.

They also play on smaller fields and their strike zones are smaller than those in regulation sized fields in the US and other areas. 

The sport has been played and watched in Japan since the late 1800s, but they only obtained their own professional league in 1936. 

Nippon Professional Baseball Organization

Mazda Stadium Hiroshimaa

Sumo Wrestling 

Sumo wrestling is hailed as Japan’s national sport considering its roots in Shinto, one of the most prominent Japanese faiths. It is said that sumo wrestling was modeled after a god and human wrestling each other.

Its origins can be traced back to the 17th century in Tokyo, where matches were practiced at the Tomioka Hachiman-gu Shrine. 

Sumo Tickets And Information Official Website

Kokugikan Sumo Wrestling Stadium in Tokyo

While there is the standard belief of sumo wrestlers being overweight, there actually isn’t a weight classification you must meet to become a sumo wrestler.

In fact, you might stumble across a sumo wrestling match where people of two different weight classes are competing. 

In Japan, there are six sumo wrestling tournaments that are held in different Japanese cities each year.

The winner is known as the Yokozuna. Despite the competitions being held in Japan, it is not only Japanese sumo wrestlers who compete. 

Basketball

Basketball is known as basukettoboru in Japanese. The Japan Basketball Association came to fruition in Japan in 1930, and the B.League in Japan, the major basketball league, was started in 2016.

The start of the JBA is what made basketball start to gain popularity in Japan. 

There is a manga series in Japan called Slam Dunk that is widely popular, especially amongst younger folks in Japan.

This has helped contribute to basketball’s popularity in Japan, as has the fact that Japan’s National team is one of the best in Asia. 

Japan Basketball Federation Official Website

Golf

The first golf course in Japan was built in Tokyo in 1914, and at that time, golf wasn’t accessible or interesting to those who were not wealthy.

Golf grew amongst those of higher social class at the time very quickly, leading to over 70 golf courses being created around Japan by 1940. 

After the Second World War, social classes in Japan faltered, and things once enjoyed by those in higher class standings became more accessible to everyone else. This contributed to golf becoming much more popular in Japan. 

PGA Of Japan Official Website

PGA Pro player Hideki Matsuyama

Today, Japan has its own golf tournament, known as the Japan Golf Tour, and offers one of the most coveted prizes of prominent golf tournaments.

One of the most famous golf players to come out of Japan would be Hideki Matsuyama, who recently won the US Masters. Golf in Japanese is called gorufu

Tennis

Tennis, or tenisu, was picked up in Japan after Yokohama’s Yamate Park had five tennis courts installed to entice tourists to visit and play.

At this point, tennis was also brought into schools as part of the physical education curriculum, as it was inspired by Western gym classes. 

At that time, tennis was seen as more of a workout than a sport, and they used rubber balls. 

Japan Tennis Association Official Website

Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan

They called this way of playing tennis soft tennis, and people in Japan are still playing soft tennis in schools today. However, Japan also has its fair share of famous tennis players, many of whom have won Olympic medals in the sport. 

Some of the most notable names in Japanese tennis include Ichiya Kumagai, who won Japan’s first-ever gold medals at the 1920 Olympics, and Kei Nishikori, one of the only Japanese men to rank in the top 10 for singles tennis.

There is also Naomi Osaka, who is considered to be the best female tennis player in the world. 

Soccer

Soccer was brought to Japan in the 1800s, by a British Royal Navy member named Lieutenant-Commander Archibald Lucius Douglas.

He decided to teach the sport to Japanese navy cadets, and it caught on quickly. This is no surprise since Japan had a sport similar to soccer that they were already playing there. 

This sport was called cuju, and the process of playing was somewhat similar to soccer. The sport originated in China but eventually came to Japan.

Essentially, the goal was to keep the leather ball off of the ground by using your feet. It was often played by members of the Japanese royal family

Japan Soccer Association Official Website

USA VS Japan Soccer Match

In the 1930s, Japan finally developed its own professional soccer team, and have even participated in the Olympics with their national team.

In the 1960s, Japan got its first soccer league, and it developed into an eventual professional league known as J. League, or the Japan Professional Football League, in the 1990s.  

Soccer in Japanese is known as futtoboru or sakka

Professional Wrestling 

Professional wrestling in Japan has some similarities to professional wrestling in other countries and is known as puroresu.

Just like professional wrestling in America, there is some theatrics involved in professional wrestling matches. However, many Japanese pro wrestlers have some form of martial arts training in their repertoire as well. 

Japan started airing its professional wrestling matches on television in the 1950s and it didn’t take long for it to catch on.

Pro Wrestling In Japan

https://youtu.be/bwu601fR2F8

People enjoy watching the theatrics and the intricately choreographed fighting, although it’s not as dramatic as it is in the United States. Japan also has its own professional wrestling promotion company, similar to WWE, known as New Japan Pro-Wrestling Co. LTD.

Boxing 

The first known circumstance of people in Japan participating in any type of sport resembling boxing was when American Navy officers were seen fighting each other with leather-bound hands in a style similar to boxing.

Shogunates of the Japanese military wanted to learn, so they had a well-known sumo wrestler fight with these American soldiers to learn more about the sport. The sumo wrestler ended up winning. 

Japan now has its own boxing league known as the Japanese Boxing Commission, and its boxers are asked to follow certain rules similar to other boxing leagues.

Legendary Japanese Boxer Documentary

Japan Boxing News

For example, members of the same gym don’t fight each other. Additionally, in order to join the Japanese Boxing Commission, you have to belong to a boxing gym, and you have to have a manager. 

Japan has also competed in the Olympics for boxing, and a couple of boxers have brought home medals from these matches.

They also hold annual boxing tournaments, known as the All-Japan Rookie King and the Japanese Title Elimination Tournament. Bokushingu is the Japanese word for boxing. 

Car Racing 

Japan is known for its excellent cars, but they also enjoy racing cars as much as building them. Japan was introduced to auto racing, or jidosha resu, in the 1920s, and got its first speedway in the 1930s, known as Tamagawa Speedway.

There are some very notable speedways and race tracks in Japan now, including the Suzuki Circuit and Fuji Speedway. 

Racing cars is by far one of the most popular sports in Japan for watching and participating in. Drift racing has also become a staple in Japan’s car racing industry.

Many have heard of Tokyo Drift, which is an actual drift racing competition held in Odaiba, Tokyo every year. 

Winter Sports (Skiing/Snowboarding)

Japan might not be known for snow, but they definitely have regions that receive large snowfall amounts, and that makes for some scenic areas throughout the country to enjoy various winter sports.

It was very easy for Japan to create snowboarding and ski runs considering how many mountains and hills the country has naturally. 

Being that Japan sees consistent, clear snowfalls during the winter, they have seen many famous snowboarders and skiers come out of the country due to their ability to practice at some of the best resorts you can find in the world.

MT Lee
My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.