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Curious about the soul of Japan?

It’s not just sushi and samurai!

Indeed, baseball and soccer dominate the sports scene in Japan.

But what else fuels the passion of the Japanese people?

Explore the most popular sports in Japan in our list.

Most Popular Sports in Japan:

  1. Baseball
  2. Soccer
  3. Sumo Wrestling
  4. Judo
  5. Golf
  6. Tennis
  7. Basketball
  8. Rugby Union
  9. Table Tennis
  10. Volleyball
  11. Swimming

#1 Baseball

Baseball
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1870s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Ichiro Suzuki (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 5 Million

Baseball, introduced to Japan in the late 19th century, has become the nation’s most beloved sport. Known as “yakyu” in Japanese, it’s deeply ingrained in the culture and daily life of the country.

The Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league is Japan’s highest level of competition, drawing millions of spectators every season. The Japanese national team, dubbed “Samurai Japan,” has also gained international recognition.

The legendary Ichiro Suzuki is a shining example of Japanese success in Major League Baseball (MLB) in the US, garnering admiration and respect from fans worldwide. With iconic events such as the annual high school baseball tournament, Koshien, baseball in Japan is much more than a sportβ€”it’s a way of life.

#2 Soccer

Soccer
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1800s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Hidetoshi Nakata (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 1.8 Million

Soccer, known as “sakka” in Japanese, enjoys immense popularity in Japan. Since its introduction in the late 19th century, soccer has grown both in terms of players and viewership over the years.

The J.League is the premier soccer league in Japan, boasting an enthusiastic following and featuring competitive teams from across the country. Japan’s national team, affectionately known as the “Samurai Blue,” has made strides in international soccer, represented in numerous World Cups.

Hidetoshi Nakata, a household name in Japan, has played for various clubs in Europe, raising the reputation of Japanese soccer. With a combination of domestic excitement and international success, soccer’s influence in Japan is continually growing.

#3 Sumo Wrestling

  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Invention in Japan: Ancient Times
  • 🌟 Most Famous Wrestler in Japan: Hakuho Sho (Mongolian)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Wrestlers in Japan: 665

Sumo wrestling is a distinctive Japanese sport deeply rooted in ancient culture and tradition. Dating back more than a thousand years, this sport holds a powerful spiritual and historical significance.

The professional sumo circuit in Japan features six major tournaments annually, attracting extensive media coverage and large crowds. Hakuho Sho, a Mongolian-born wrestler, is widely hailed as one of the greatest sumo wrestlers of all time, winning multiple championships and setting numerous records.

As sumo continues to evolve and adapt to the modern world, it remains a significant part of Japanese heritage and identity.

#4 Judo

Judo
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Invention in Japan: 1882
  • 🌟 Most Famous Judoka from Japan: Tadahiro Nomura (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Judoka in Japan: 300,000

Judo, a martial art and Olympic sport founded in Japan in 1882, emphasizes physical and mental discipline. With a unique blend of techniques and principles, judo has become popular not only in Japan but also across the world.

Japan has produced numerous world and Olympic champions, with Tadahiro Nomura being the most accomplished, having won three consecutive Olympic gold medals. The Kodokan, the headquarters and birthplace of judo, is a prestigious center for learning and practicing the art.

As a significant part of Japanese culture, judo showcases the country’s respect for tradition, discipline, and sportsmanship.

#5 Golf

Golf
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1903
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Hideki Matsuyama (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 9 Million

Golf in Japan is a flourishing sport with a rich history, commencing in 1903 with the development of Japan’s first golf courses. The immaculate Japanese golf courses showcase the country’s natural beauty and meticulous attention to detail.

The Japan Golf Tour is the country’s premier professional golf league, with tournaments offering high-caliber competition. Hideki Matsuyama has made a name for himself on the international stage, becoming the first Japanese player to win a major at the Masters Tournament in 2021.

The sport’s popularity is mirrored in Japan’s rising golf talents, making golf an integral part of Japanese sports culture.

#6 Tennis

Tennis
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1880s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Naomi Osaka (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 4 Million

Tennis in Japan has grown steadily in popularity since its introduction in the late 19th century. Its perfect blend of athleticism, skill, and strategy has resonated with the Japanese public.

The Japan Open Tennis Championships is a crucial event on the national circuit, featuring both local and international players. Japan’s tennis sensation Naomi Osaka has had remarkable success on the global stage, winning multiple Grand Slam titles and becoming a role model for aspiring tennis players.

With increasing participation and talent, tennis in Japan continues to make an impressive impact on the international scene.

#7 Basketball

basketball
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1930s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Rui Hachimura (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 600,000

Basketball has found a passionate audience in Japan since its introduction in the 1930s. The sport’s fast-paced, high-energy gameplay has caught the imagination of the Japanese people.

The B.League, Japan’s professional men’s basketball league, provides intense competition and entertainment for fans. Rui Hachimura, who made history as the first Japanese player selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, serves as an inspiration for many young players in Japan.

Basketball continues to gain momentum in Japan, fueled by local talent and the admiration for the sport’s global superstars.

#8 Rugby Union

Rugby Union
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1899
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Ayumu Goromaru (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 125,000

Rugby union is a sport on the rise in Japan, fueled by a century-long history and recent successes. Since its introduction in 1899, rugby has steadily expanded its fanbase in Japan.

The Japan Rugby Top League is the country’s top-tier domestic rugby competition, featuring fast-paced and hard-hitting matches that captivate audiences. Japan’s national team, the Brave Blossoms, made an unforgettable impact at the 2015 and 2019 Rugby World Cups, igniting a surge in rugby’s popularity.

Ayumu Goromaru, the team’s iconic fullback, has become a symbol of Japanese rugby excellence. As rugby union continues to gain prominence, both domestically and internationally, it paves the way for global recognition of Japanese rugby.

#9 Table Tennis

Table Tennis
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1900s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Jun Mizutani (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 2 Million

Table tennis, known as “takkyu” in Japanese, is a popular sport in Japan that demands agility, precise reflexes, and strategic thinking. It has enjoyed national appeal since its introduction in the early 20th century.

The Japan Table Tennis Championships is a premier event in the country, attracting both domestic and international competitors. Jun Mizutani, an Olympic medalist, has become a symbol of Japanese table tennis excellence. Moreover, the women’s national team has had significant success on the international stage.

Table tennis has become an emblem of Japanese sportsmanship, with local enthusiasts and professional athletes showcasing their skills and competitive spirit.

#10 Volleyball

volleyball
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Introduction in Japan: 1920s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Player from Japan: Karch Kiraly (American)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Players in Japan: 4 Million

Volleyball has been a popular sport in Japan since its introduction in the 1920s, offering an exciting blend of teamwork, athleticism, and strategy. It occupies a special place in Japanese sports culture, both at the professional and recreational levels.

The V. League is Japan’s top-tier volleyball competition, featuring intense domestic rivalries and attracting large audiences. The Japanese women’s national volleyball team, known as the “Oriental Witches,” achieved international fame by winning the 1964 Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.

This defining moment in Japanese sports history cemented volleyball’s stature in Japan, and the nation continues to foster its development and passion for the sport.

#11 Swimming

Swimming
  • πŸ“… (Estimated) Year of Popularity Surge in Japan: 1930s
  • 🌟 Most Famous Swimmer from Japan: Kosuke Kitajima (Japanese)
  • 🌍 Estimated Number of Swimmers in Japan: 5 Million

Swimming has made a significant impact on the Japanese sports scene, thanks to the country’s numerous competitive swimmers and its dedication to developing aquatic excellence. Swimming dates back centuries as a traditional skill in Japan, and its modern popularity surged in the 1930s.

Japan has produced numerous world and Olympic champions, with Kosuke Kitajimaβ€”a four-time Olympic gold medalistβ€”leading the way in the breaststroke. The Japan Open Swimming Championships is a highly anticipated event, showcasing national talent and providing thrilling competition for fans.

The sport’s growing prominence at both recreational and competitive levels testifies to Japan’s commitment to swimming success and passion for aquatic sports.

FAQ

What is the most popular sport in Japan?

Baseball, also known as “yakyu,” is the most popular sport in Japan, deeply ingrained in the country’s culture and followed by millions, with the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league attracting massive support.

What is the national sport of Japan?

Sumo wrestling is considered the national sport of Japan, holding a powerful spiritual, historical, and cultural significance dating back over a thousand years, and featuring six major tournaments annually.

What are the most watched sports in Japan?

The most watched sports in Japan include baseball, soccer, sumo wrestling, judo, golf, tennis, basketball, rugby union, table tennis, volleyball, and swimming, all boasting significant fan bases and viewership across the nation.

I'm a sports enthusiast who loves all kinds of ball and water sports. I run stand-up-paddling.org (#1 German Paddleboarding Blog), played competitive Badminton, took part in the German Mini Golf Championships, started learning 'real' Golf and dabbled in dozens of other sports & activities.

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