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Soft Tennis

Soft Tennis is proof that the creative minds of the Japanese don’t do anything half hearted. The nation has a fairly extensive history of modifying traditional western sports to suit their tastes or in some cases, such as Botaoshi, create an entirely new sport themselves. Some modifications to the rules of existing sports don’t gain much attention, but in some cases, such as Soft Tennis, modifications to some of the rules or equipment used became very popular and over a fairly short time period a whole new subset of sport is created. Cases such as Soft Tennis progress to a point where the new sport formed and grows to become an acknowledged sport with high levels of competition in its own right.

As the name implies, Soft Tennis is a modified version of the age-old sport Tennis. This version of Tennis was initially introduced to Japan by an unnamed western missionary. The Japanese kept modifying the rules to their tastes and developed the sport to a point where a dedicated set of ball and racquet of were developed used.

Just like actual Tennis, Soft Tennis is played on a court divided in halves with a separating net in the middle. The objective to hit the ball over the net and land within the opposing player’s half while attempting to hit it in such a way that prevents the opposing player from returning the ball, remains the same. Just like Tennis, there’s the singles and doubles game type and as their name implies, singles is played in a 1-on-1 fashion while doubles is played in a 2-on-2 style.

The main difference between traditional Tennis and Soft Tennis is the use of a different ball and racquet set. Soft Tennis, unlike standard Tennis, uses a soft rubber ball as opposed to a hard one. Due to the ball being softer, lighter and more flexible racquets with a lower level of string compression are used which allow precise control over the ball. Soft Tennis generally plays at a different pace to Tennis as the speed of the ball after it bounces is lower, placing a higher emphasis on technique and control over power and rotation force.

Soft Tennis is generally played in Asia, especially in Japan’s neighboring countries, including Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, and the Philippines. The sport has amassed a following in Europe as well and has internationally reached a following large enough for there to be a world championship tournament every four years.

First image by youmeandatanuki.wordpress.com

Second image by nagase-kenko.com

 

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Keirin

Gambling is generally banned in Japan. However, there are a few exception to the laws, which interestingly enough include betting on horse races and some motor sports. Japan is well-known for its tendency to create sports and competitions with creative qualities to it, some of which do end up growing in popularity followed by serious levels of national competition.

Keirin seems to be a combination of the Japanese trying to create a gambling opportunity as well as a new form of sport at the same time. Cycle racing competitions have been legitimate competitions for over a century, but was given a different interpretation by the Japanese in 1948.

The term Keirin translates into “racing wheels.” It’s a form of motor-paced cycle racing wherein the competing racers partake in a sprint race after a speed-controlled start set behind a so-called pacer. Riders must remain behind the pacer for a certain number of rounds before racing to the end. Length of races are normally determined by the length of a single lap of the course. 250m long tracks warrant 8 laps, 333m equals 6 laps and 400m tracks are 4 laps long.

Riders have to draw lots which will determine the starting position behind the pacer which is normally a motorcycle. The race starts at a moderate pace of 25km/h but increase per lap until the pacer reaches close to 50km/h. The pacer will leave the track somewhere between 600 and 700m away from the finish line, which is the signal for the racers to go all out and attempt to finish first. The average winner’s speed is around 70 kilometers an hour, which is an almost ridiculous speed given that it’s faster than the average speed limit for cars.

Despite being a gambling sport initially, Keirin has become hugely popular – not only in Japan as Keirin has been an Olympic event from 2000 to 2012. The sport in Japan is regulated by the Japanese Keirin Association (JKA) and is taken quite seriously due to the potential of fatal injury given the speed at which the competitors race.

Becoming a professional grade Keirin racer in Japan is no small feat either as one must atten the Japan Keirin School in order to be acknowledged as a pro to compete in JKA events. Only 10% of applicants are accepted into the school and then absolve a 15-hour-per-day training schedule before taking graduation exams.

First image by altalang.com

Second image by culturalsnow on blogspot.com

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Baotaoshi

Japan is well known in the west for having a few odd tendencies, especially when it comes to entertainment, popular culture, and of course, sports. Being the birthplace for some very entertaining as well as some very extreme forms of sport has given Japan an interesting reputation in that regard, which sometimes even overshadows the nation’s ability to compete on international levels for the more conventional sports.

Normally, the Japanese modify sports to either be more challenging or entertaining, often by making changes to the rules, competitors or venues of the event. Every now and then the Land of the Rising Sun does give birth to a completely new form of sport, which at first might have the purpose of entertainment but can quickly grow into in popularity and form levels of serious competition.

Botaoshi can be considered to be like that, however, the seriousness of the competition can be questioned in some instances. The term translates into “pole bring down” and as the term implies, involves a pole. Video gamers might be able to compare the sport to a “king of the hill” and “capture the flag” crossover.

Baotaoshi is played regularly in Japanese schools as well as the cadets of the National Defense Academy. The scope of the game is almost excessively large, with 150 players on the field at the same time, 75 on each side. Teams consist of 150 men per side, which is then split into 75 attackers and 75 defenders per team. The two teams compete for control of the flag, or in this case, a singular large pole and appear to alternate attacking and defending forces.

The game begins with the defending team positioning themselves around the pole with the attacking team preparing to charge to get control over the pole. The attacking team only has 150 seconds to knock the pole down and emerges victorious if they manage to lower the pole below 30 degrees from the ground. The teams then swap roles from defense to attack and vice versa.

There are different roles among each team. In defense, the “Pole support” attempts to hold the pole in the upright position. The “barrier” protects the pole and makes up most of the defense. The “interference” attempts to harass and interrupt the attackers that get close to the pole with kicks. The “scrum disabler” prevents the attackers from climbing the “barrier” by using their teammate’s backs and shoulders to gain leverage. The “ninja” is a single player on top of the pole who tries to counteract the pole shifting with his body weight.

On offence the roles are less diverse. “Scrums” act as stepping stones for the other attackers to climb on to gain leverage on the defense. Pole attackers are in charge of using their weight to bring the pole down. “General attackers” do anything to break through the defense.

Images from odditycentral.com

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Overview & History of Ekiden

Japan has the tendency to liven up different types of sport by putting their own spin on the rules, format or venue. Sometimes, this is done for comedic purposes with the simple goal of entertaining live or television audiences, but in other cases, this often results in legitimately new forms of sport which then go on to grow into serious levels of competition.

One can argue that the most basic of all sports is to simply run. Of course, Running is seen as the foundation for almost all other modern sports, or at least a significant majority of all sports played. The act of running in itself is also a high-class sport, practised by all ages. Power walking, sprinting, circuit races and marathon are just some of the popular ways to compete in running, even in Japan.

However, Ekiden is taking distance relay running a step further from what is generally seen in the west. The race is a type of relay race, meaning it’s a team competition. While the concept of relay races is not uncommon globally, such races are normally conducted in a circuit manner, however Ekiden races generally cover long distances with teams starting at point A racing to point B instead of going around in a closed circuit.

Ekiden races are normally held on roads and streets and the very first one was held in 1917 and lasted over 3 days. The race track was the way from Japan’s current capital, Tokyo, to its former capital, Kyoto, a distance of just over 508 kilometers, which is over 10 times that of a standard marathon.

The races cover varying distances as well as varying team sizes. At a junior high school level, teams normally consist of 6 boys and 5 girls, covering a length of 12 and 18 kilometers respectively. At a high school level the number of girls stays unchanged, however 21 kilometers are ran instead. For the male competition, the number of runners increases to 7 and the distance is that of a full marathon at 42 kilometers. There are different configurations for this, as seen in state and national levels where distance and amount of runners normally increases as the importance and prestige of the competition increases.

The term “Ekiden” is made of the Japanese kanji for “transmit” and “station” which is a reference to how long distance communication used to be handled in the ancient times as messengers relayed from station to station, passing on the message until it reached its destination.

First image by japanwindow.com

Second image by tkss.jp

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American Football

Japan has definitely made a name for itself in the world of sport. Regardless of whether it’s a foreign sport, one they popularized themselves, a martial art or even a motorsport, chances are fairly high that Japan’s been involved in it at some point in time. Many western sports have become excessively popular in Land of the Rising Sun, so popular in fact that European and Western sports are the top 3 most popular and played ones in the nation. Rugby, football and volleyball are just a few of them.

Both martial art competitions such as judo and karate as well as more traditional sports are large spectator events. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that Japan has also taken a liking to American Football one of the most prolific sports of America, a country Japan as much history with.

Surprisingly, American Football has a much longer history of being played in Japan than in Europe. The sport didn’t come to a form of formalized competition until the late 1970s, whereas Japan began its relationship with the sport in the early 1930s. The arrival of the sport in Japan is commonly attributed to Paul Rusch and George Marshall, a pair of American teachers, as well as Alexander George and Merritt Booth, two attaches to the US embassy.

Under the leadership of these four Americans, the first three American Football teams were established at the Waseda, Meiji, and Rikkyo universities, respectively. The very first formalized match played in Japan pitched an all-star team of the three universities against a team comprised of American and British expats living in Japan, playing under the banner of the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club. The Japanese all-star team won convincingly and soon the sport started to grow, as seen by the collegiate all-star match mere 3 years later, pitting the best of the western against the best of the eastern Japan university teams. Over 25,000 attended to watch the match.

The success of the sport in the country is attributed to its emphasis of many valued Japanese qualities. Strength, tactical and strategical thinking, teamwork, discipline are all part of the sport, making it easy for the Japanese to fall in love with the game.

Nowadays, the highest level of American Football is the X League in Japan, filled with wholly sponsored teams and comparable to the other highest level sports leagues across the country, such as football’s J-League.

First image by tofugu.com

Second image by wsj.com

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Gateball

Gateball is another sport seemingly based on an existing sport which has undergone several modifications to its gameplay by creative Japanese minds. There are definite similarities to the British sport Croquet in Gateball. The game was invented in 1947 by Suzuki Kazunobu who revised the rules of Croquet as he realized that while there was a definite shortage of rubber to make balls with, wood was available in abundance, which could be used to make equipment with.

The Japanese creation is a mallet team sport. The sport can be played by anyone regardless of gender and age, making it ideal for the casual pick up game. However, despite the lax requirements to participate in a Gateball competition, the sport is not to be underestimated in terms of complexity. Gateball is an extremely strategic team game. A standard game takes place on a rectangular court between 20 and 25 meters long and 15 to 20 meters wide. A court has three gates as well as a goal pole.

 

Two teams compete against each other with a maximum of 5 players per side. The teams are colored red and white and every competitor has a numbered ball which determines the playing order, with ball 1’s player hitting first and so on. The odd balls correspond to the red team while the white team plays the even numbered ones.

Teams score points for hitting their balls through a gate or against the goal pole, each of which is worth one and two points respectively. A game lasts for 30 minutes and the team with the most points at the end is declared the winner. The teams begin by placing their balls in the starting area from where they attempt to hit the balls through the first gate. A player who successfully passes through a gate is allowed to hit again until they miss. In the case that they miss the first gate or strike the ball out of bounds, they have to return the ball to the starting area and try again on their second turn.

A “touch” is when a ball hits another ball. Should both balls remain in the field, the one who played the shot steps on his own ball and place the other ball so that it is touching his own. From there, he will proceed to “spark” by hitting his own ball while it is still touching the other ball, allowing him another turn. This allows for highly complex plays exploiting the position of the opposing team’s balls on the field.

 

Images from wikipedia.com

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Takagari

When one thinks of sport, normally the very most popular kinds come to mind. In the Japanese context, they would normally be Baseball, football, golf, perhaps even the more traditional ones such as Sumo or other martial arts.

However, there are sports that one doesn’t actually think of as forms of sport, and Takagari is one of them. Takagari is essentially the Japanese equivalent of falconry and has a very long and culturally rich history behind it.

The first thing to note is that Takagairi was a sport exclusive to the noble class. Participating in the Japanese falconry in itself was a sign of nobility, status and apparently also indicated a presence of a warrior’s spirit.

Old records indicate Takagari to have begun as an activity in the 4th century during the reign of the Emperor Nintoku. The noble class of the time enjoyed hawking, as did the central Court of the time, to a point where they tried to gain the right to make Takagari exclusively practicable by the central Court, even unsuccessfully attempted to send out orders to ban others from practising the art of falconry.

 

The central court would not gain deciding power over the sport of falconry for another 13 centuries. During the 13th century, hawking became a popular activity among the Samurai class alongside the noble class. Hawking actually became important culturally to a point where it was used to settle disputes over land ownership among lords. This would later on give birth to several falconry schools as well as styles of falconry.

The type of falconry practised in Japan as Takagiri has its origins in the Sino-Korean styles. Falconry textbooks started being written by Samurai in the 16th century and prior to that, nobles would leave their own experiences and techniques recorded from the 13th century onwards as a form of proof of their nobility.

At no point in time has falconry ever not been a status symbol, especially given the costs associated with partaking in the sport. Costs of acquiring, raising, housing and training the birds are very high and require a lot of specialized equipment along with a lot of free time ready to be invested in the birds.

Following the end of World War II, falconry was suspended as part of the activities of the Imperial Household and is generally not a very widespread sport across the country. However the tradition of Takagari is maintained by several clubs and enthusiasts with the adequate resources to take care of the majestic birds of prey.

First image by jref.com

Second image by goldenjipangu.com

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Sports Chanbara

If there is one thing the Japanese have been very successful at over the past few millennia, it would have to be engaging in some form of combat. While a nation struck by beauty, elegance, grace, and many more aspects of serenity, the Land of the Rising Sun has never been without some form of conflict. Japan was home to two of the most famous and infamous classes of warriors – the Samurai, the weapon-wielding front line warriors living by their codes of honor. The other was the not quite so honorable but regardless very much revered class of assassins – the silent and deadly ninja.

Transitioning Japan’s success in forms of combat into more modern and less antique times would be its involvement in the many martial arts the world has to offer. However the downside of these martial arts is that firstly, they require a lot time investment. Also, martial arts tend to be rather inflexible – the art of Kendo for instance will only focus on the use of one type of sword just as how Karate will only focus on empty-handed combat. These are limitations that are difficult to overcome when simply learning to use a martial art and may result in a less satisfactory experience than one had hoped to attain when joining a martial arts school.

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This is where Sports Chanbara shines. Chanbara roughly translates into “swordplay.” Founded by the accomplished swordsman Tanabe Tetsundo, Sport Chobara is a highly dynamic, low impact, free fencing sport. Sports Chanbara makes use of the values engraved into the many martial arts styles and allows its participants to experiment freely. Through the use of specially designed “action flex” and airsoft weaponry, participants are allowed the freedom of using all types of bladed weapons in a perfectly safe and controlled environment.

Weapons usable include models of Kodachi short sword, Choken long sword, Yari long spear, Jhou double sided short blades, and Bou double sided long blades. There are also daggers, halberds and staffs that can be used in Sport Chanbara. The models are hollow and flexible, requiring users to only wear a standard helmet to protect the head. Any combination of the weapons can be used and allows competitors to try different fighting styles against each other on an even playing field.

 

Advantages to playing Chanbara are improved speed and dexterity as the weapons are very light and require fast reflexes to block and dodge. Sport Chanbara is overall a great workout that also promotes self confidence as it incorporates basic tactics from self defense and basic weapon fighting techniques.

First image by wasportschanbara.com

Second image by sportschanbara on blogspot.com