Japanese Sports: From Sumo to Soccer

Japanese Sports: From Sumo to Soccer

No one can deny that sports are a worldwide phenomenon. Baseball may be America’s pastime, but everyone knows that football is truly America’s sport. The large majority of the world is obsessed with the other kind of football, and it seems any country that has been ruled by England can’t get enough cricket. But what about Japanese sports? While sumo wrestling is Japan’s official national sport, it is far from the country’s most popular. So what sport holds the title for “favorite professional sport” in Japan?

If you guessed baseball (野球, yakyū), you’re right. 48% of Japanese people polled in 2013 chose baseball as their favorite sport. Since it was adopted from the United States in 1872 it has continued to grow in popularity. It is both the most played as well as the most watched sport in the country. According to Japan’s National Tourism Organization, “Baseball is so popular in Japan that many fans are surprised to hear that American’s also consider it their national sport.”

japanese sports sumo to soccer
Image credit: japan-guide.com

If you go to a baseball game in Japan, however, you may be surprised to learn it’s a little different than its American counterpart. While you will still find hot dogs and beers, the Japanese take cheering for their teams to a whole new level. In addition to a team’s mascot, you will also find a literal cheer leader to keep the fans pumped up throughout the game. Everyone knows the cheers, so you’d better learn them quickly. Individual players each have their own cheers as well, making sure there is a never dull moment! In this way, Japanese baseball fandom much more closely resembles a European football match than it does American baseball.

Speaking of football, (サッカー, sakka) or soccer to Americans, it comes in as the second most popular sport in Japan. The J. League Division 1 (Jリーグ・ディビジョン1 J Rīgu Dibijon1) is the top division of the Japanese Professional Football League (日本プロサッカーリーグ, Nippon Puro Sakkā Rīgu), founded in 1992. Despite initial popularity, the league suffered throughout the late 90s, leading to its restructuring in 2005. Post 2005, the league much more closely resembles the European football leagues. Since then, attendance at games has remained relatively stable but the percent of Japanese claiming it as “their favorite” has risen from 23% to 36%!

Despite many countries being known for their rowdy soccer fans, violence, and football hooligans, Japanese fans actually have a reputation for being extremely well-mannered. As recent as the 2014 World Cup, Japanese fans made headlines by cleaning up after themselves. Though leaving a place “cleaner than you found it” is customary in Japan, in the Americas and Europe we are accustomed to seeing stadiums scattered with stale popcorn, piled high with empty nacho trays, and littered with empty beer cans when we leave.

japan's favorite sport

So why were the Japanese so polite even after losing the game? In Japan it’s known as 当たり前 (atarimae), which loosely translates as something reasonable, or obvious. It’s just something that is done by everyone so why wouldn’t you do it too? The Japanese take pride in their cleanliness and that applies to even the messiest of football stadiums in Brazil.

Have you ever been to a baseball or football game in Japan? Did you get swept up in the infectious cheering? Did you notice everyone cleaning up after themselves and follow suit? I hope so, because it’s atarimae!

Learning Japanese Holidays: Coming of Age Day

Learning Japanese Holidays: Coming of Age Day

Almost every culture around the world celebrates the rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. In America, a Sweet Sixteen party is a common way to honor the occasion. In Latin America, a quinceañera marks a woman’s passage from girl to woman on the day of her fifteenth birthday. But in Japan, the day they are believed to come of age is at twenty years old. This is also known as 成人 (Seijin no Hi), literally, “Coming of Age Day.” While Japan adopted the Western age system known as 満年齢 (man nenrei) in the early 20th century, historically they used a traditional system of counting age known as 数え年 (kazoedoshi). In this system, everyone is born at one year old, and everyone ages together when the New Year passes.
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How to Make Origami with Tadashi Mori

How to Make Origami with Tadashi Mori

The word origami (折り紙) comes from the Japanese words for “folded” and “paper.” When you hear the word you probably think of small children folding cranes and hanging them from the ceiling. But in fact, the world of origami extends far beyond an activity for kids. Traditional Japanese origami has been widely practiced since the Edo period in Japan, beginning in the 17th century. Origami were traditional accompaniments for gifts and were also used in Shinto wedding ceremonies. Today, knowing how to make origami has grown to a full-fledged art form with designs growing increasingly intricate and complicated as artists continue to innovate in the field. (more…)

Juku and the Japanese Education Culture

Juku and the Japanese Education Culture

There is a well-known stereotype around the world that East Asian cultures are far more academically-focused than their Western counterparts. But how much truth is there behind this commonly held notion? And where does it come from? In order to compare the Japanese culture of education to American school culture, let’s start by looking at a few statistics.

Each year, Japanese students spend 240 days in school, compared with just 180 for American students. At face value they are already spending two more months of the year attending classes. While school in America is compulsory from elementary through high school, only elementary (小学校 shōgakkō) and junior high (中学校 chūgakkō) are required in Japan. Despite this, high school enrollment is 99% nationwide. In 2010, Japan’s high school graduation rate was at 95%, compared with just 77% in America. Japan has one of the world’s best-educated populations, with 100% enrollment in compulsory grades, and a 99% literacy rate.

But what exactly is behind these numbers? Along with the massive economic growth in Japan following World War II came an extreme pressure for Japanese students to achieve academic success. This pressure is ingrained in children by their parents from birth. The cost of failing means not only losing out on financial success and stability, but also bringing shame to oneself and one’s family, known as (haji). Despite a nationwide policy of ゆとり教育(yutori kyōiku, or relaxed education) that was introduced in 2001, Japan’s drop in international rankings, and concern with the academic levels of graduates, ushered in a shift back to longer school days and more rigorous schedules for students over the past few years.

Japanese Culture of Education: Juku
Image Credit: ©Angie Harms

While getting into a good college in America means having a strong GPA, a well-rounded list of extra-curricular activities, and a good SAT score, Japan is focused almost exclusively on college entrance exams (入学試験, nyūgaku shiken). Getting into a top university may be difficult in America, but once you’re there, the work has only just begun. If you do manage to earn your degree, getting a good job is a whole different story. In Japan, however, if you’re accepted into one of the most prestigious universities, you’re almost guaranteed a degree and a position at one of the country’s best companies. Students will spend their entire adolescence preparing for these exams, knowing that they play a critical, singular role in determining their future. Hence the coining of the phrase 試験地獄 (juken jigoku), or, “entrance exam hell.”

Because the pressure to succeed on nyūgaku shiken is so high, Japanese students often enter cram schools known as (juku) in order to better prepare. If you aren’t accepted into university, you become 浪人 (rōnin), or a master-less samurai. At this point you will likely enter a juku or 予備校 (yobikō) in preparation for taking your exams again. While almost all Japanese high school students are enrolled in some kind of supplemental education, it doesn’t begin there.

As of 2011 almost one in five children in their first year of primary school attended after-class instruction. Parents in Japan will send their children to juku as early as three years old in order to prepare for pre-school, elementary, junior high, and high school entrance exams. In 2010, 97% of Japanese four-year-olds were enrolled in some form of pre-primary education. Compared with the OECD average of 81%, this statistic is even more staggering. Of course, once your child is accepted into a prestigious pre-school, they can ride the path to the best elementary schools, the best high schools, and naturally, the best universities. While this concept isn’t completely foreign in America, the Japanese have made it all but required to enroll your child in juku at some point if you want them to succeed.

Cram Schools Japan Culture education
Image Credit: ©Sometimes it Rains in JUN

So where does all this pressure leave students in Japan? Because extra-curricular activities are not considered an integral part of academic success, many students are forced to abandon these in exchange for additional time studying for exams. After an early morning, a full day at school, several hours at a cram school, and a few more hours of homework, most young students won’t make it to bed until after midnight. Additionally, the Japanese system is centered completely on rote memorization and the ability to test well. While this is clearly (and proudly) reflected in their international rankings, it may not be a good measure of overall intelligence. In class, students listen, take notes, and do not ask questions. As students are taught only to memorize answers rather than to come up with creative solutions to problems, their test scores flourish while their ingenuity as a nation suffers.

Over the past decade, many critics have come out against the Japanese system, insisting that the country as a whole needs to move away from just cramming to a multifaceted approach to education that includes identifying problems, taking risks, and finding innovative solutions. But so long as those entrance exams are the sole determiner of your child’s future, testing well will remain students’ top priority, and cram schools will remain an inescapable part of education in Japan.

Have you studied abroad in Japan before? What are your thoughts on their educational culture and methodology? Is too much pressure put on students to succeed? What, if anything, do you think should change? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!