Sports in the Japanese Society

Surfing in Tokyo


In Japan, sports are being integrated into people’s lives from very young ages, starting off with the early educational stages, and maintain a deep social and cultural significance in time. Physical education here comprises of both practical sessions and theory. Traditional sports are still widely practiced, while modern, imported sports are increasingly popular, whether it is watching or playing. Tournaments, sports days, and other competitions are generally held throughout the year and include a variety of sports. Many children engage in physical activity outside of schools as well, practicing before and / or after classes. [1]


leisure sports


Here, it is the norm for schooling institutions to be equipped with pools, basketball courts, volleyball courts, gyms, etc. From our conversation with Sakai Yoshiyuki, Kokugakuin Kugayama High School [2] basketball coach, it is not just Tokyo or other big cities that benefit from such equipment – these are present all over Japan. As mentioned above, besides schools, sports activities are generally a popular choice among Japanese people of all ages during their spare time. Free or at a reasonable price, depending on the activity, with discounts for kids of up to 50% in most cases, Japanese people have broad access to parks and plenty of sports facilities like ice skating rinks, roller skating rinks, bouldering, tennis courts, surfing, etc. [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]


bouldering tokyo


Although Japanese people tend to show interest in a wide variety of sports and popularity is not a main factor, there are still, however, some popular choices which may differ somewhat in accordance to each season. Baseball, football, and volleyball, as well as swimming during summer are most frequently practiced in schools. On a wider scale, considering the society as a whole, baseball, followed by soccer, were the most favoured sports for two years consecutively – in 2018 and 2019. The types of physical activities that people most often engage in, overall, are “walking or light physical exercise, training with gym equipment, bowling, or jogging and marathon”. [1]


football field


With such exposure to sporting activities, it becomes evident why so many people maintain an active lifestyle, and even more, develop a passion for certain sports that they choose to pursue professionally. Studies reveal that sports participation rate of people aged ten and above reached about 68.8% in 2016, having increased with 5.8% compared to a year before. [1] Even more, in 2019 approximately 45.5% of children (4-11 years old) have been engaging in sports activities at least seven times a week. Contrastingly, only 3% of children have mentioned not exercising at all throughout the timeframe of the research. [8] Participation in sports is also rather high among people with disabilities – in 2016 about 40% having been engaging in sports. [9]

tennis court tokyo


As mentioned in our previous article with Yutaka Saho, CEO of Sports Safety Japan, [10] the country will face an ageing population and declining birthrate, all of which impact the state of society, culture, and economy. Such implications explain why Japanese people increasingly emphasize sports and healthy lifestyles. Therefore, after a decrease in sports participation during the past two decades, an upward trend is clearly evident in recent years. [11]

Accordingly, in order to prevent the negative implications of the above-mentioned trends, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Japan Sports Agency (JSA) have allocated a budget of 32.4 billion JPY in 2016, increasing from 29 billion JPY in 2015. Moreover, in 2016, schools’ physical education system accounted for 16.1% of the government total sports budget in Japan, a substantial raise from only 1.8% in 2007. [12] [13]


football field


As a result, the way in which sports are emphasised nowadays in Japan is clearly a noticeable element of people’s mindsets, lifestyles, and culture. Among many other measures, the embedding of sports into everyday life is a way in which society is preparing for the upcoming socio-cultural changes, proving a health-driven approach and a long-term oriented philosophy that further generations could also benefit from. This conclusion could also be demonstrated through Hofstede Insights ‘long-term orientation’ dimension, describing how a society maintains a connection to its past while adapting to the challenges of the present and future. With a score of 88, Japan is among the most long-term oriented countries in the world. [14]

outdoor tennis court


Best Living Japan (n.d.) City Wave Tokyo (Shinagawa, Tokyo) [online] available from

Best Living Japan (n.d.) Tokyo Dome Rollerskating, Kōrakuen – Enjoy Family Skating [online] available from

Culture Trip (2017) Where to Go Ice Skating in Tokyo [online] available from

Hofstede Insights (2020) WHAT ABOUT JAPAN? [online] available from

Kokugakuin Kugayama Junior High School (2020) News / Topics [online] available from

Sports Safety Japan (2019) WHAT IS SPORTS SAFETY? [online] available from

Statista (2016) Annual government sports budget in Japan from 2007 to 2016  [online] available from

Statista (2016) Share of annual government sports budget for physical education at school in Japan from 2007 to 2016 [online] available from

Statista (2016) Sport participation rate of people with disabilities in Japan in 2016, by frequency [online] available from

Statista (2019) Favorite sports among people in Japan as of September 2019 [online] available from

Statista (2019) Sport participation rate among children in Japan as of 2019, by frequency [online] available from

Statista (2019) Sports in Japan - Statistics & Facts [online] available from

Time Out Tokyo (2018) Best bouldering gyms in Tokyo [online] available from

Tokyo Cheapo (2019) Where to Play Tennis in Tokyo [online] available from


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