Top 12 Most Popular Sports in Japan

December 06, 2021 5 min read

Most Popular Sport in Japan

Martial arts are not the only sports in Japan to compete at the highest level.

While sumo is the most emblematic sport in Japanese culture, baseball, soccer, tennis and golf are also very popular in the Land of the Rising Sun. Last summer 2021, the Olympic Games took place in Tokyo.

So, what are the favorite hobbies of the Japanese? Find out in our top 12 most popular sports in Japan.

N°1: Baseball

baseball japan

Japan celebrates its victory in the baseball final. Photo credits: Jorge Silva/Reuters

In Japan, baseball is a real religion. This sport of American origin was imported in the archipelago during the Meiji era around 1872. Fifteen years later, a team of high school students won a game against American residents.

Since then, baseball has become incredibly popular in Japan and there are so many competitions in the country that some games are played at night. Ichiro Suzuki is definitely the legend of baseball in Japan.

In addition, Japan was crowned Olympic champion against the United States during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

N°2: Soccer 

soccer japan

Japan's Takefusa Kubo faces Spain's Martin Zubimendi in a pre-tournament match for the Tokyo Olympics 2020.  Photo credits: Kyodo

Soccer or sakka in Japan is the second most popular sport in the country, right after baseball. The Japanese women shine with their achievements and won the Women's World Cup in 2011 against the Americans.

More recently, great international footballers like Andres Iniesta or David Villa joined Japanese clubs. For several years, soccer has been booming in the archipelago and the victories are following one another. No doubt, this sport is growing in power; they even talk about the Japanese Messi, named Takefusa Kubo.

In the land of the Rising Sun, fans are totally devoted to their soccer club. Unfortunately, after beating France 4-0 at the Tokyo Olympics, they lost the bronze medal to Mexico.

🎾 N°3: Tennis

tennis in japan

Japan's Naomi Osaka in action during her third round match against Czech Marketa Vondrousova. Photo credits: REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

Although Japan won its first Olympic medal in 1920, tennis remains a relatively little known sport in the country. Nevertheless, the popularity of this racket sport is constantly increasing. Its influence is such that it is frequently found in manga and anime.

It should be noted that the tennis player Kei Nishikori and the player Naomi Osaka are major stars in the Land of the Rising Sun. Sadly, they did not win any medals at the Tokyo Olympics.

🥋 N°4: Sumo

sumo in japon

Sumo-Ringer in Tokyo. Photo credits: Gusjer de Aranjuez, Spain

As the national sport of Japan, sumo is a sacred art in the archipelago. Competitions are regularly organized by the international sumo federation which counts 84 countries today.

Moreover, Russia and Mongolia fiercely compete with the powerful Japanese wrestlers. Taiho Koki is the most famous yokuzuna in Japan and is considered the greatest sumo wrestler.

🏌‍♂ N°5: Golf

golf in japan

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama during the final round of the Masters golf tournament on Sunday, April 11, 2021, in Augusta, Ga. Photo credits: David J. Phillip

With more than 2500 golf courses on the territory, golf is a sport that is particularly appreciated by the Japanese. This year, it is even more popular since Hideki Matsuyama won the Augusta Masters, three months before the Tokyo Olympics.

Likewise, Japan's Hinako Shibuno made history in women's golf by winning the 2019 Women's British Open. While Matsuyama failed to make a mark at the Tokyo Olympics, Japan wins its first Olympic medal at the Tokyo Games thanks to golfer Mone Inami.

🥊 N°6: Boxing

boxing in japan

The Japanese boxer Sena Irie won against Argentina Solórzano, by unanimous decision of the jury. Source: www.stadiumastro.com

The Japanese boxer Irie Sena won a gold medal this year at the Olympic Games in the featherweight category. Ever since the dawn of time, the Japanese people adore warriors that they venerate as demigods.

Japan counts more than 1300 professional boxers and 5 world champions. That's why the country stands out in this sports discipline. The legend of boxing in Japan is named Naoya Inoue. He is famous for his numerous and impressive victories by KO.

🤼‍♂ N°7: Puroresu

puroresu in japan

Momo Watanabe delivers a headbutt. Photo posted on Twitter @ Watanabe

Puroresu is the Japanese wrestling. This sport, which combines free fighting with wrestling, was introduced in the Land of the Rising Sun by the sumo wrestler Sorakichi Matsuda.

However, puroresu became popular thanks to the wrestler Rikidozan in the 50s. The latter, considered as the father of Japanese wrestling, died brutally, murdered by a yakuza. Despite this tragic end, the wrestling sport continues to be particularly appreciated by the Japanese who come in great numbers to see the matches.

Women can also practice this physical activity known as joshi puroresu. Fumiake was the first famous female wrestler.

And among the male stars, we can mention Antonio Inoki and his legendary fight with Mohamed Ali in 1976.

🏉 N°8: Rugby

rugby in japan

Japan's rugby players after beating Scotland in the Rugby World Cup. Source: www.japantimes.co.jp

Japan is one of the first countries to have practiced rugby. That is why this contact sport is very popular in the archipelago. The passion for rugby among the Japanese people is strong, as can be seen from the number of people who play the game.

Since 10 years, the level of the game has not stopped progressing, making it more and more popular among the Japanese people. Japan also collects the exploits and won the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

🏀 N°9: Basketball

basketball in japan

Tokyo Olympics, Japan beats France.  Photo credits: REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Among the favorite sports of the Japanese, basketball holds an important place. It is particularly popular among middle and high school students who play it in gym class, just like volleyball. This year at the Olympic Games, the women's team won the silver medal. A great first for Japan.

🏎 N°10: Auto racing

auto racing in japan

Grand Prix of Japan. Source: maxf1.net

In the early 1960s, racing was booming with the Suzuka Circuit founded by the Honda company and the first Japanese Grand Prix.

The craze for motor racing continued with the opening of the Fuji Speedway. In 1990, Aguri Suzuki made Formula One history in Asia by winning the 3rd place in the Japanese Grand Prix.

In addition, Kazuyoshi Hoshin's impressive career made him a star of Japanese motorsport. At the same time, Japanese drivers in the Paris Dakar have been able to make their mark thanks to Mitsubishi.

🏃‍♀ N°11: Marathon

marathon in japan

Tokyo marathon. Source: worldsmarathons.com

Japanese marathon runners did not win any medals this year at the Tokyo Olympics, yet marathon running is a very popular sport in the archipelago.

Considered as an outlet and productivity factor at work, Japanese people have widely adopted running. The nation is also very well represented at the International Athletics Federation level.

In addition, the Tokyo Marathon is a very popular event for athletes who are drawn to participate in the race. We will remember the exemplary perseverance of Shizo Kanakuri who finished his race started 54 years ago, at the age of 76 years.

N°12: Figure skating

Figure skating japan

Yuzuru Hanyu. Credits: Yuzuru Hanyu © TORU YAMANAKA - BELGAIMAGE

Figure skating is not a major sport in Japan and yet, it has exceptional skaters like the talented Asada Mao, triple world champion and Yuzuru Hanyu, double Olympic champion of figure skating.

Note that the young prodigy adored by the Japanese will compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2022.


How about you, do you prefer soccer, basketball or running? Let us know your favorite sport in the comments.


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