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Japanese Sports

Japanese Sports: A History

Copyright Date: 2001
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  • Book Info
    Japanese Sports
    Book Description:

    In this first synthetic, comprehensive survey of Japanese sports in English, the authors are attentive to the complex and fascinating interaction of traditional and modern elements. In the course of tracing the emergence and development of sumo, the martial arts, and other traditional sports from their origins to the present, they demonstrate that some cherished "ancient" traditions were, in fact, invented less than a century ago. They also register their skepticism about the use of the samurai tradition to explain Japan's success in sports. Special attention is given to Meiji-era Japan's frequently ambivalent adoption and adaptation of European and American sports--a particularly telling example of Japan's love-hate relationship with the West. The book goes on the describe the history of physical education in the school system, the emergence of amateur and professional leagues, the involvement of business and the media in sports promotion, and Japan's participation in the Olympics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6312-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Every June, when the hydrangea are at their best, the Fujinomori shrine on the outskirts of Kyoto hosts an exhibition ofkemari,a traditional Japanese sport. A team of men dressed in the colorful robes of eleventh-century courtiers kick a ball back and forth, skillfully keeping it aloft. Next to the ground on which they play their game stands a large rack from which are suspended hundreds ofema,the small wooden votive tablets on which supplicants can write their prayers. Most of the prayers at the Fujinomori shrine are for good luck at the races. Pictures of horses and...

  5. Part I Sporting Practices Before the Black Ships

    • 1 Sumō, Ball Games, and Feats of Strength
      (pp. 13-41)

      All sports,” wrote the German scholar Carl Diem, “began as cult.”¹ This generalization is as much an exaggeration as the Marxist assertion that “all sports were originally one with the means of production,”² but Diem was right to call attention to the easily forgotten fact that, in the centuries before our more secular age, adults who participated in sports were often—perhaps usually—engaged in religious ritual. Examples abound: the athletic contests at ancient Olympia, which were staged quadrennially in honor of Zeus; the ball games of the Mayans and Aztecs, which culminated in human sacrifice; the wrestling matches of...

    • 2 Martial Techniques
      (pp. 42-64)

      According to the most authoritative Western scholar of Japan’s martial arts, “Archery was the first of the traditional Japanese combat techniques to become modified into a sport form.”¹ In part, this is probably because it was easier for archery to make that transition. The bow and arrow was used for hunting as well as combat, and the substitution of inanimate targets for live ones was not a complicated procedure.

      Millennia before the dawn of history, inhabitants of the Japanese islands hunted with bows and arrows and used these implements as weapons. Like the hunters and warriors of other cultures past...

  6. Part II Modern Times

    • 3 The Arrival and Diffusion of Western Sports
      (pp. 67-95)

      Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries from Portugal and Spain arrived in Japan in the sixteenth century, decades before Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543–1606) defeated his rivals and consolidated his control over a more or less unified nation. These European missionaries actively propagated their religion among the “heathen,” many of whom were eager to embrace Roman Catholicism. The missionaries proved to be too successful for their own good. The large number of converts to Christianity, especially in the area around Nagasaki, led to a viciously xenophobic reaction. The shogunate banned Christianity in 1614, murdered thousands of Japanese who refused to renounce their new...

    • 4 The Modernization of Indigenous Sports
      (pp. 96-116)

      A Meiji-period observer might have predicted that Japan’s adoption of Western sports meant the demise—sooner or later—of the nation’s traditional sports. In fact, some sporting traditions, like inuoumono, did disappear. Some, like kemari, barely managed to survive thanks to the heroic efforts of small groups of devotees. Some, like the traditional martial arts, underwent a transformation. And sumō seems—at first glance—to have continued unchanged.

      The social trauma that seems inevitably to accompany the transition to modernity results, just as inevitably, in an effort to preserve, revive, and revitalize traditional ways. Within the realm of sports, one...

    • 5 Japan at the Olympics: 1912–1940
      (pp. 117-127)

      When Pierre de Coubertin summoned the youth of the world to appear in Athens in 1896 to participate in the Olympic Games, the call was answered by the young men of Europe and North America. No Asian nation sent its representatives to Greece to compete in the first games of the modern era, nor were Asian athletes present at the games held in Paris, St. Louis, and London. This was a cause of great concern to Coubertin, who wanted the Olympics to be a truly global phenomenon. Since he had no contacts with Japanese sportsmen, he asked the French ambassador...

    • 6 From Taishō Democracy to Japanese Fascism
      (pp. 128-160)

      In a study of Japanese physical education “under Fascism,” Irie Katsumi argues that turn-of-the-century Japanese nationalism was xenophobic and imperialistic.¹ The expansionist wars against China (1894–1895) and Russia (1904–1905), the annexation of Korea (1910), and the seizure of Germany’s colonies in the Pacific (1914) can certainly be cited in support of Irie’s characterization. Then came what most historians, including Irie, commonly refer to as “Taishō democracy,” an era characterized by relatively liberal attitudes and institutions. Political parties challenged the oligarchs who had governed Japan from the start of the Meiji period. In 1918, Hara Kei became the first...

    • Plates
      (pp. None)
  7. Part III Postwar Sports

    • 7 Rising from the Ashes
      (pp. 163-192)

      Apart from Kyoto, which had not been bombed, Japan’s urban centers were a postwar wasteland. Despite the devastation, children played among the ruins and adults began, tentatively, to rebuild the organizations and the material infrastructure of Japanese sports. Like their grandparents in the Meiji period, they wanted not only the opportunity to participate in traditional and modern sports but also international recognition of their athletic achievements. For the leaders of Japanese sports, if not for rank-and-file athletes, readmission into the global sports arena was an enormously important goal.

      During the Occupation, kendō and other traditional martial arts were banned and...

    • 8 Japan at the Olympics: 1952–1998
      (pp. 193-210)

      A year had not passed after Japan’s surrender before the Japan Physical Education Association began to work for the country’s return to international sporting competition. The first step was to rejoin the nongovernmental sports organizations that administer international sports. A committee to investigate that possibility was set up in July 1946. An “Olympic Preparation Committee” was established in January 1947, with an eye to the first postwar Olympics, which were to be held in London the following year. In May 1948, the Olympic Preparation Committee was renamed the Olympic Committee and given the status of a National Olympic Committee. The...

    • 9 New Directions
      (pp. 211-232)

      Japan’s political, economic, social, and cultural institutions are by definition unique, but it is undeniable that they have become increasingly similar to those of the United States and Western Europe. This similarity has provoked a reaction from a small army of writers busy with the production ofNihonjinron(theories about Japanese uniqueness). The content of these theories—for instance, that Japanese brains are constructed differently from American and European brains¹—is less significant than what they tell us about the feeling, widespread among traditionalists, that Japanese society is under siege, threatened by an invasion from overseas. Although traditionalists often speak...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 233-272)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-292)
  10. Index
    (pp. 293-308)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 309-310)