If you think Japanese Sports is all about the “Do” sports: Kendo, Judo, and Karatedo, you have barely seen anything. There are far more different kinds of sports existing that have passed down through history and are being enjoyed in tournaments on a regular basis. Most of them have clear rules, many devoted players and intricately refined playing techniques you find as well in major sports. They are not known internationally, some because fluency in the language is central to gameplay, or because technically they are not strictly defined as sports by the Japanese, but more games, even though the root of nearly all sports is game. Sometimes, the sport simply needs a larger audience and is addictive when given the chance. Let’s look at some of these sports while you ask yourself these questions and check your aptitude to see if you have the potential to be a star athlete.
Are you very quick at grabbing things? Do you have a long reach? Do you have a sharp sense of hearing? Are you a fan of Japanese literature, especially its poetry? If you say yes to any or several of these questions then you will enjoy playing karuta.
There are many types of karuta but it is the 百人一首Hyakunin Isshu, a collection of cards of poetry, collected by Fujiwarano Sada-ie which developed into a sport with nationwide players gathering once a year at the tournament site beside the 近江神 Oumi Temple with top aces competing to be the champion. The poems were split into pairs of cards, each poem having an “upper” and “lower” half in different cards.
In a karuta tournament, several players play at the same time paired up and facing each other. They sit or kneel on the tatami floor, the cards laid out between them. A reader reads aloud a randomly chosen card. As soon as a player recognizes and finds the card that matches the poem she can touch the card to win the round. The player in each pair who wins the most rounds wins the match.
Sounds easy? Well, what makes karuta cool is how players have cultivated skills and techniques to grab cards ever faster. Some perfectly memorize each card’s place, while others can lash out at the cards at a blink of an eye. Some even hone their hearing sense so that they know which card is being read at the utter of a syllable. The simple act of reaching out to grab each card is as physically and mentally exerting as any vigorous sport making the roomful of karuta players look quite impressive. All these using love poems so beautiful and rich in imagery. If you are confident you have perfectly balanced physical and mental skills, then karuta is a good challenge for you.
Do you have good aim? Good hand-eye coordination? Do you have the stamina to practice making the same move over and over again? If yes, you will enjoy Kendama, a sort of Japanese version of yo-yo but with a much more complexly-shaped toy. Kendama is simply a ball tied to a wooden stick with 3 bowl-like “cups” in which you juggle the ball between cups and a pointed end.
Kendama is already widespread in some areas internationally, with tournaments being attended by players of different nationalities. Non-Japanese people have already mastered juggling tricks and uploaded videos on the internet.
The beauty of kendama is that as long as you have the kendama you can practice it anytime, anywhere, during work and study breaks. Mastering kendama is not all about brainless practice, it requires concentration and deft hand motions. Once you catch the ball in a cup and feel utmost satisfaction achieving such a mundane goal, you’ll want to challenge yourself with harder tricks so you’ll never put down the kendama.
3.Nihon Eihou or Japanese Traditional Swimming
Do you like swimming? Do you want to learn how to shoot an arrow, swordfight, wear an armor 20 kgs? heavy without breaking a sweat and do just about anything all while swimming in the water? Then you will absolutely love Nihon Eihou, also known as 古式泳法 Koshiki Eihou.
Hundreds of years before synchronized swimming came to Japan, the samurais of war period needed to learn to fight in the water while wearing armor in order to survive and made up strokes in the water to jump high from the water, make formations and all sorts of moves. Battles in the water were not just fought between ships, but with samurai shooting from the water or leaping high to see far across the water, swimming backward while shooting and swinging their katana.
Though you are not likely to be actually wearing armor or getting ahold of a katana that easily to practice Eihou, you can learn to do all sorts of neat tricks, just use your imagination, using the many swim strokes of Eihou. You can, for instance, spin an umbrella or juggle, swim fast without putting your head in the water among other tricks. If you’re on a diet, you’re bound to find the perfect swim stroke to exercise those hard reaching muscles that need fat-trimming. You’ll even find a muscle or two you never even knew existed. That is just how vigorous some of the strokes can be.
These three sports are only still a few from the rich variety of sports that are waiting to be discovered from the far-reaching towns all around Japan. I would love to find if any exist, a sport that didn’t tire you out but shaves off fat like a miracle. I suppose I’m asking for too much? Have fun and may you be the first famous foreigner to become a Japanese sports champion!