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The J-League

“The Global Game”- this is what people from different nations regard football to be. In all the continents of the world, football appears to be one of the more famous sports. In Asia, in particular, there are ten countries included in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Rankings as of December 2013; one of which is Japan. In the country of Japan, football is very significant and is regarded as a big part of their culture. It is considered to be a Western import sport, very popular with both participants and spectators. In Japan, there are many football leagues,both amateur and professional. The Japanese National Football League or J-League, in short, is the most popular football league in Japan. It is divided into two- the J League Division 1 composed of 18 clubs and the J League Division 2, made up of 22 clubs. J-League owns the top two levels of the Japanese association football league system, which is organized in a pyramidal shape. This is similar to football league systems in different countries around the world.

Currently, the top three clubs of J League Division 1 are Sanfrecce Hirosihma, Yokohama F. Marinos, and Kawasaki Frontale. All of which qualified for the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champion’s League Group stage. Shunsuke Nakamura, one of the most prominent and successful Asian football players, plays in the league, under the club team Yokohama F. Marinos. Other famous players in the league are Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka, Shusaku Nishikawa of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Yuya Osako of Kashima Antlers, and Tetsuya Enomoto of Yokohama F. Marinos. All of the players mentioned have bagged Player of the Month honors for their spectacular play in their own respective positions. It is noticeable, however, that none of which are included in the top scorers of the league. The top scorers are the likes of Yoshito Ōkubo of Kawasaki Frontale (26 goals), Kengo Kawamata of Albirex Niigata (23 goals), and Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka (21 goals). This goes to show that football is a team sport where every aspect of the game, not just goals are important.

The J-League team

Sanfrecce Hiroshima is the top team in the league. On December 7, 2013, they won the  J-League Division 1 championship, beating Yokohama F. Marinos in a thrilling finish. This is their second consecutive title, which makes them only the second team in J League history to be able to successfully defend the crown.

Truly, J League is one of the most successful leagues in Asian club football. As a matter of fact, it is the only league in Asia to be given the “A” ranking, as granted by the AFC. With the league’s continuous success, football in Japan is definitely in good hands and at its finest. 

Image by J.League Official Site

 

“The Global Game”- this is what people from different nations regard football to be. In all the continents of the world, football appears to be one of the more famous sports. In Asia, in particular, there are ten countries included in the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) Rankings as of December 2013. One of which is Japan. In the country of Japan, football is very significant and is regarded as a big part of the culture. It is considered to be a Western import sport, very popular with both participants and spectators. In Japan, there are many football leagues, amateur and professional. The Japanese National Football League or J-League in short, is the most popular football league in Japan. It is divided in two- the J League Division 1 composed of 18 clubs, and the J League Division 2, made up of 22 clubs. J League owns the top two levels of the Japanese association football league system, which is organized in a pyramidal shape. This is similar to football league systems in different countries around the world.

            Currently, the top three clubs of J League Division 1 are Sanfrecce Hirosihma, Yokohama F. Marinos, and Kawasaki Frontale. All of which qualified for the 2014 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champion’s League Group stage. Shunsuke Nakamura, one of the most prominent and successful Asian football players, plays in the league, under the club team Yokohama F. Marinos. Other famous players in the league are Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka, Shusaku Nishikawa of Sanfrecce Hiroshima, Yuya Osako of Kashima Antlers and Tetsuya Enomoto of Yokohama F. Marinos. All of the players mentioned have bagged Player of the Month honors for their spectacular play in their own respective positions. It is noticeable however that none of which are included in the top scorers of the league. The top scorers are the likes of Yoshito Ōkubo of Kawasaki Frontale (26 goals), Kengo Kawamata of Albirex Niigata (23 goals), and Yoichiro Kakitani of Cerezo Osaka (21 goals). This goes to show that football is a team sport where every aspect of the game, not just goals are important.

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Watching Sumo Tournaments

To get a good glimpse of authentic Japanese culture, one must make it a point to see a Sumo wrestling match live. Sumo wrestling is an ancient Japanese sport where two wrestlers battle each other in a circular ring. It started from a legend where two gods fought over the possession of islands some 2500 years ago. The match is highly ritualistic and has become an imperial tradition. It has become a spectator sport over the last years.

Sumo Wrestlers, Kokugikan Hall Stadium, Tokyo, Japan

There are several tournaments in a year and each one is jam-packed with locals and tourists. Tickets can be bought online and the prices range from about $15 for general seats to several hundred dollars for the choice VIP seats. Although in the past, spectators go to these matches dressed in traditional Japanese clothes, one can now watch a Sumo match in jeans and t-shirts.

Sumo tournaments take place in halls near sumo stables where wrestlers live communally. During days leading to the tournaments, the districts where these tournaments are held become alive with tourists and decors. Flags bearing the wrestlers photos adorn the halls and the areas around it and fans usually wait around the halls for the arrival of their favorite wrestlers. Wrestlers in the top division (makuuchi) compete for the Emperor’s Cup. They compete once a day, fighting a different opponent for 15 days. The goal is to emerge with at least 8 wins, and a guarantee not to be demoted from rank. Wrestlers who cannot maintain their positions in their divisions are expected to retire.

Matches begin in the morning with less popular wrestlers. The halls begin to be filled by midday and are usually full by early afternoon when the bigger stars are scheduled to fight. The center of the hall holds the circular ring, measuring about 4.5 meters and surrounded by sacks of rice. Each wrestler aims to push his opponent outside of the ring or force him to touch the floor with a part of his body (other than the soles of his feet) to win.

Sumo wrestlers about to start their fight

Before the match, the wrestler, garbed in only a silk belt, arrives and takes a wide stance and then stomps his feet loudly, a ritual that is supposed to drive away evil spirits. As his fans cheer and shout his name, the wrestler takes a sip of “power water” to purify his body. He then tosses salt in the air to prepare the ring. Then, each wrestler stares his opponent down and then charges to push the other outside of the ring to win.

Tournaments are always exciting to watch and a good way to experience Japanese culture.

 

Photos  by Christian Kober and Gard Karlsen

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The Benefits of Judo to Japanese Children

Judo, a Japanese martial art, teaches the practice of balance in physical and mental training. It inculcates within its practitioners several virtues and characters like respect, accountability, punctuality, self-confidence and perseverance.

In a culture as close and nationalistic as Japan’s, parents have tasked upon themselves to teach their growing children the values that they grew up embracing. One of the medium for such lessons is through Judo. Through Judo, a child develops discipline, manners, punctuality, strength, stamina, perseverance, tenacity, toughness and confidence – all character traits that are essential to success andin gaining respect in society. On top of this, humility in winning and grace in losing are also taught to the young through Judo lessons.

What particular lessons are imparted in Judo that would benefit the young? For one, character building is cultivated in judo when one is thrown on the mat, and then expected to get back up and fight again after. Perseverance and determination are slowly being embedded in these youngster’s minds and character as they go through their Judo training.

 

Japanese children practicing Judo

Another important lesson taught is responsibility. One should always take responsibility for his success or failure. If they want to progress to promotion or to join competitions, they know they should diligently come to training and practice even when they are off training. If they are lazy, distracted or show disinterest in training, losses are expected of them and progression to higher levels will be very difficult if not impossible.

Gaining respect is another benefit of Judo. Respect for one’s capabilities, be it his own or his opponent’s is learned throughout the training. Medals and trophies achieved are fruits of one’s labor and should be respected. Peer acceptance will all depend on how one carries himself through victory or failure. To earn the respect of his trainer or teacher is always a big goal for the student.

Since Judo is a martial art, self defense is always a benefit. Even in the most conservative cultures in the world, parameters of safety have shifted considerably through the years. With more aggressive triggers in the environment, it is a bonus for one to know how to defend oneself. Judo teaches the young how to stay fit, develop strength, stamina, balance, agility and awareness. Children are taught how to identify a threat and react to it appropriately.

In short, Judo teaches not only a manner of defense to children, but a way of life. These lessons will help them conquer the difficult and trying teen-age years and prepare them for the adult life ahead.

Young students cheer on their teammate during competition

Image from Wikipedia

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Formula 1 Racing in Japan

The beginning of motor racing in Japan was in 1963 when the first Japanese Grand Prix was run as a non championship race in the Suzuki Circuit, outside of Nagoya. The first Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix was held at the very fast 2.7- mile Fuji Speedway, 40 miles (64 km) west of Yokohama. This will be the venue of Japanese F1 races for the next 11 years. The Speedway, then, had a banked corner called Daiichi which became the scene of many fatal accidents. In one race, a collision between Gilles Villeneuve and Ronnie Peterson caused Villeneuve’s Ferrari to somersault into a restricted area, killing two spectators. This incident took F1 racing out of Japanese soil for a decade, returning in 1986 in another venue.

From 1987, the Japan Grand Prix was held annually at the Suzuka Circuit, a test track owned by Honda and was designed by Dutchman John Hugenholtz. The circuit was notably known for its layout, most dominantly for having the only figure-eight race track to appear on the F1 tracks. Its has become the site for many memorable and exciting Formula 1 race moments. In 2006, the races were once again returned to the newly redesigned Fuji Speedway, now owned by Toyota. Races were supposed to alternate between the Fuji and Suzuka racetracks until Toyota announced in 2009 that a global economic slump is preventing the Fuji Speedway from hosting races from 2010 onward. The races have now been returned to the Suzuka racetrack.

 

Suzuka Circuit

Since 1987, the Japanese Grand Prix has become a favorite for spectators. Tickets are always sold out. In fact, in the 1990 Grand Prix, 3 million fans fought over 120,000 tickets to the race. F1 drivers like Frenchman Alain Prost and Brazilian Ayrton Senna both of the McLaren team in the late 1980s were very popular then. Today, Japanese fans fill the grandstands to the rafters for their local hero Kamui Kobayashi.

 

Japanese F1 Driver Kamui Kobayashi

Watching the Japanese Grand Prix comes with a cost. Ticket prices for a 3 day adult pass arefrom $153 to $931. The prices depend on the seat/grandstand location. Despite the steep prices, fans clamber to get tickets and few are left for grabs online months before race day. Transportation to and from the race track is limited to tour and shuttle buses on race days. These buses pick up and drop off fans in designated off-site parking areas. During days without races, regular buses or taxis (for ¥3500 one way) can be taken to the Speedway.

Images from Black Book and The Car Connection

 

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Ryo Ishikawa

May 20, 2007 marked the beginning of a bright career for a young Japanese golf player. Barely 16 years old, Ryo Ishikawa won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup, making him the youngest player to win the tournament. This was Ishikawa’s first tour appearance and he competed as an amateur with a sponsor exemption. From then on, this young Japanese golfer’s career was never the same.

Ishikawa, also fondly nicknamed Hanikami Ōji or “Shy Prince”, started playing golf at the age of six when his father brought him to a practice field. Interest in the game coupled with a natural swing propelled the young boy to play well and eventually win several championships, the first of which was the Yokoo elementary school principal cup championship at the age of 13. He proceeded with his winning streak all through high school, winning Japan’s National Junior High Championship. He turned professional in 2008 and won another tournament, the Mynavi ABC Championship. By the end of his first season as a pro, he finished fifth on the Japan Golf Tournament Organization’s money list, and became the youngest player to reach the Top 100 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

In 2009, his second season as a pro, he played in PGA Tour tournaments for the first time. He played in the Northern Trust Open, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the 2009 Masters Tournament. He finished 71st the Transitions Championship. By the end of 2009, Ishikawa had four wins in Japan, led the money list, and was among the Top 50 in the world rankings.

 

Ryo Ishikawa

In May 2010, Ishikawa made another record by shooting a 58 in the final round of the Crowns tournament in Japan making it the lowest score ever posted on any of the world’s major golf tours. Colorful golf outfits have become the trademark of the young golfer. He has been said to “push the limits” of golf fashion. Ishikawa’s on-course style is far from his shy nickname. He is often seen in brightpastels, plaids, cleanly tailored shirts and pants, and the ever presentbicep band. His impeccable dressing style definitely makes him stand out in the crowd. Whatever it is he is wearing, Ishikawa exudes the same creativity and versatility he shows in his game.

Ishikawa takes golf fashion a notch higher

His fast climb to the top did not prevent Ishikawa from helping his own. He donated all of his 2011 tour earnings, plus an additional ¥ 100,000 for every birdie he made during the year, to the victims of the 2010 Japan earthquake. The bright outfits after all, perfectly fit the bright outlook that is inside this young man’s heart.

 

Photos from Golf Digest and Zimbio

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The Rise of Japanese Baseball

Baseball sounds very much like an American kind of thing but I can assure you that Japanese baseball is just as big as that of the United States or maybe even bigger. Without a doubt baseball is the most popular sport in Japan.  Baseball was brought to Japan from the United States in the time of the Meiji Era around 1870’s.  It started out with the first regional baseball club, the Shimbashi Athletic Club, and eventually progressed into a professional sport.  As the sport grew to nationwide popularity, several aspects of this American sport have been slightly changed by the Japanese. An example of this would be that Japanese baseball is considered more difficult as the playing field, baseball, and strike zone have been reduced in size. These and other alterations have resulted in a very tight sport.

Much like any other sporting league, the fans of Japanese baseball have had their own teams to support throughout the years. The Hanshin Tigers, also known as the Tigers, is one of the oldest and most popular baseball teams in Japan.  They always have a huge following in all of their games and arguably have the most die-hard fans.  Hanshin Tigers games are the craziest tournaments you can imagine.  The famous Hanshin Koshien Stadium built in the 1920’s is the home of the Tigers.  In the stadium, you can educate yourself about the club’s history, accomplishments, and past & current players.

Koshien tigers

Fall period, from April to October, is the peak of baseball season in Japan.  There are also all-star games featuring the best players across varying teams aside from the final game at the end of the baseball series.  And if you think that only professional baseball teams are popular in Japan, you are absolutely wrong.  Amateur leagues such as high school, college, and community baseball aren’t any less serious and can get as massive and popular as professional leagues.

In any occurrence, high school baseball in Japan is undeniably awesome.  High school baseball, or as they call it “Koshien”, is so popular that it often beats its pro league counterpart in game attendance and television viewership. Summer in Japan is incomplete without the ‘boys of summer’ of the national high school baseball tournament.  The annual tournament is held at the famous Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo. It is said that Koshien is “a celebration of the purity and spirit of Japanese youth”.

Undeniably, Japanese baseball is glorious not only because of the skill shown by the Japanese players but more so of the passion and dedication shown by all the Japanese people for the sport.

Image by ESPN

 

 

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Running the Tokyo Marathon

The Tokyo Marathon is an annual marathon in Japan sponsored by Tokyo Metro, Tokyo’s main transit system. The marathon originally consisted of two marathons, the Tokyo International Marathon which took place on even years and the Tokyo-New York Friendship International Marathon which took place on odd years. In 2007, the first Tokyo Marathon was run, with 30,000 runners: 25,000 signing up in the marathon and 5,000 in the 10k run. In 2013, the Tokyo Marathon was included as one of the six World Major Marathons.

Tokyo 2012 Marathon

Japan is known for its elite marathon races with very strict qualification rules. In order for one to run in the Elite field, the following qualifying times should be complied with:

FULL MARATHON           HALF MARATHON             10K ROAD

Men             2:23:00                                      1:01:30                              28:10

Women      2:54:00                                     1:11:00                               32:10

 

Aside from the Elite Division, the marathon has several other event categories. There is the main Marathon, registering a maximum of 35,000 runners. Males and females should be at least 19 years old at the time of the race, and should be able to finish the race under 6 hours and 40 minutes. There is also a 10k race which will take a maximum of 500 runners. This is further subdivided into U-18 or 275 runners in the 16-18 age group who are capable of finishing the race in 1.5 hours; the Visually Impaired division which is composed of 50 male or female runners ages 16 and older, who can finish the run in 1.5 hours; Intellectually Challenged division, in which 100 runners, age 16 and older, male or female, can run provided that they can finish the race in 1.5 hours and the Organ Transplant Recipient event for 50 males or females ages 16 and older who can also finish the race in 1.5 hours. The last event is the Wheelchair division where 25 males or females ages 16 and older compete to finishing the race in 35 minutes or less in their race wheelchairs.

The In the recently concluded Tokyo Marathon, held on February 23, 2014, over 300,000 applications were received but only 36,000 were chosen by lottery and received their run bibs.

The entry fee for the Marathon is ¥10,000 for locals and ¥12,000 for international runners. For the 10K run, the entry fees are ¥5,000 for local runners and ¥6,000 for international runners. The prize money for the marathon is ¥8,000,000 for male & female champions and ¥30,000 bonus for world records and ¥300,000 bonus for course record.

Runners may or may not be registered with the Japan Association of Athletics Federation.

Ethiopia’s Aberu Kebede wins at the 2013 Tokyo Marathon

 

Images by marathonaddictuk and iaffmedia

 

 

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Golfing in Japan

Japan is known to be a land of nice surprises. This seemingly small cluster of land boasts of more than 2,300 golf courses and over 500 driving ranges to keep the average golf enthusiast on his toes with excitement. Consistent with the Japanese goal of perfection, these courses and ranges are kept in tip-top shape to ensure pure playing pleasure for everyone.

How do you make a game exclusively yours? It all boils down to knowing the basics of playing golf in Japan. First, you determine where you want to play because this determines how much you will pay. The more exclusive courses in Japan would mean dishing out at the very least an annual membership fee of ¥25,000.00 to enjoy playing privileges for one year. This is on top of the green fee of ¥7,900 on weekdays or up to ¥12,000 on weekends. Fortunately, many golf courses have opened their doors to day-golfers who can expect to spend around ¥15,000 to ¥20,000 for a round. If you want to forego the extras, you can always “self-play” without a caddie, cut down on the beer at lunch, and spend as low as ¥6,000 for a day on the course.

Once you set your budget, you now find a buddy to play that round with. Most courses do not allow single players. Twosomes are a minimum. This is perhaps borne out of the practice of discussing business while playing golf. To try to get into a flight might be mistaken as trying to get into someone else’s business. Besides, it is always more enjoyable to play with a friend. Golf clubs are seldom for rent so if you plan on playing golf, you must remember to bring your set. You can arrange to have your set delivered to your course of choice a couple of days before your scheduled play for about ¥1,500. This service saves you the trouble of dragging your set with you to and from the course. Just a simple reminder: golf sets are usually taken to the caddie masters and you will get to see them when you start to play, so do not make the mistake of packing your playing clothes or shoes in your golf bag A few more reminders are necessary before the game. Lunch between the front and back nines are mandatory. Take this time to enjoy the beauty of the course and the sumptuous meal before you. You can later on decide to hop into a hot tub like most players after a game. This, and a bottle of cold beer can define this adventure as exclusively yours.

Assuming that you have chosen well your course, your set, your clothes and your playing buddy, all that is left to do is to enjoy your game. Since Japan is a place of surprises, keep an open mind. Who knows? You might find yourself back for another round.

Images are taken from Golf in Japan and Destination 360

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Discovering Japan on Bike

Exploring a country on a bicycle is a good way to discover many secrets that are not usually seen on common guided tours. Riding up and down bike routes around Japan has been a means to see the other side of the country on a more personal way. Many tourists who decide to go on a bike tour of Japan are amazed at how much they have seen, learned and experienced in a short amount of time.

Planning a bike tour would mean considering some basics first. The first thing you must decide on is how much time do you have for this exciting activity? Some people opt to just ride around the city on bike, instead of taking the usual group tour on bus. Some have a few days to spare and decide to explore the countryside on bike. However long you intend to spend on a bicycle, there are many bike tours offered in Japan that would definitely suit your timetable. The next thing you have to consider is where to get your most important equipment: your bike. Bicycle rentals are available in many tourist destinations. The rates are usually ¥100-300 per hour, ¥400-800 for half a day, and ¥1000-1200 for an entire day. The most common rental bike is the mamachari or “mom’s bicycle”. This is a simple bike, usually with a basket and/or a child’s seat.

Typical everyday-use bicycle or mamachari

 

After getting your bike and deciding how long you will be gone, the next thing to do is to plan your route. Typically, biking in the cities is more stressful because of the traffic and amount of people around. Outside of the cities, the population is sparse, the view more serene and picturesque but biking infrastructure is still very good. Cycling around is also a great way to meet locals and explore their way of life. You should not be worried about backing out once you started biking. If you become saddle-sore, you can hop on a bus or a train (with your bike in tow) and get on your way faster.

For the more serious cyclists, organized bike tours are available. One of the most popular tour is the Mt. Fuji and Five Lakes tour which lasts for 2 days. Day 1 will mean cycling for 70 kilometers and Day 2 another 62 kilometers. This is all with Mt. Fuji, Japan’s most revered mountain in view.

Cycle tour of Japan

Images from Japan Guide and My Tokyo Guide

 

 

 

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Hanetsuki and the Hagoita

Hanetsuki is a traditional Japanese sport which actually originated from China. It is played with a wooden decorated paddle called a hagoita and a shuttlecock called hane. This sport is very similar to the modern day badminton but is played without a net. Hanetsuki was traditionally a rite during exorcism and became a game for girls during the Muromachi period (from 1333 to 1568). The ancient Japanese believed that diseases can be acquired from mosquitoes which were eaten by dragonflies. The hane or shuttlecock which represents dragonflies are made from soapberry seeds and some feathers. The Japanese word for soapberry, Mukuroji, is written with characters that mean “a child not suffering from illness,” This connects the significance of the game to good health. Today, it is a game often played at New Year to drive evil spirits and to protect children from mosquitoes during the next year.

Young women playing hanetsuki

 

The aim of the game is to pass the hane back and forth between the players as many times as possible without it hitting the ground. The player who drops the hane receives a smudge of black India ink on her face. A single player may also play by keeping the hane aloft as long as possible. The amount of protection one may get depends on how long the hane remains in the air.

Hagoita and Hane

 

Much of the culture of this Japanese sport is retained in one of its hardware, the wooden paddle or hagoita. In addition to it being a gaming element, the hagoita, represents the owner’s growth and as a symbol of good health and safety. Although the popularity of Hanetsuki has declined over the years, beautifully painted and ornamented hagoitas are still very popular in Japan. During the Edo period, these wooden paddles were given as gifts with wishes of good fortune for the coming New Year. These also became popular gifts for little girls on their first New Year. It was believed that little girls cannot protect themselves on their own so these hagoitas are given to them to swat away bad luck and poor In the middle of December, the Hagoita Market is now held at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, where beautifully decorated hagoitas are sold. These come in different sizes and feature Japanese artwork, kabuki actors and Edo era ladies. Today, famous actors, sportsmen, politicians and even anime characters are found on hagoitas. Selling price for these may range from around $50 to $5,000 or more depending on the size, materials used, and artist.

 

Photo by Kusakabe Kimbei, taken from ginacolliasuzuki  and rakuten