What are the most popular sports in Japan? All the facts and details

What are the most popular sports in Japan? All the facts and details

Claudia Kogi
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:24 PM

While the land of the Rising Sun spent much of its history isolated from the rest of the world, it quickly embraced several sports that were introduced, especially the moment it opened up at the end of the 19th century. Some of these sports ended up being the most popular in Japan.

What is the most popular sport in Japan as of 2023?
What are the most popular sports in Japan? All the facts and details. Photo: Koji Watanabe (Modified by author)
Source: Getty Images

Aside from the country's infrastructure, technology, and especially the automotive sector, today, it is known for various sports such as golf, tennis, soccer, and even baseball. And while these are the most emblematic ones in the country, they have somehow found a niche in other various disciplines.

Even though the national sport in the country is Sumo wrestling, there are other disciplines the country has ventured in since its registration with the Olympics board. SportsBrief has assembled some of the most common sports in Japan for you to look out for.

10. Marathon

What are the most popular sports in Japan?
Kohei Futaoka competes in the Elite Men's Marathon during the 2022 TCS London Marathon on 2nd October 2022, in London, England. Photo: Mike Owen
Source: Getty Images

Even though the Japanese nationals have adopted running in their day-to-day lives, they have never won any major medals in any given category. However, it is alleged that the country is well represented at the International Athletics Federation levels.

Additionally, they continue to host some of the most-watched Olympic Games in its town, Tokyo. Perhaps sooner or later, marathons would surpass Sumo wrestling and become the most-watched sport in Japan.

9. Basketball

What are the three most popular sports in Japan?
Tamami Nakada (#33) competes against Zhang Zhiting of China in their women's semifinal game during the FIBA 3x3 Asia Cup at Marina Bay Sands on 10th July 2022, in Singapore. Photo: Yong Teck Lim
Source: Getty Images

Well! Well! Well! It is never a doubt the United States of America is the mother of basketball, and even to back that up, is the fact that almost 95 percent of NBA players are American nationals. However, it does not insinuate that Japanese nationals have not ventured into basketball.

Truth is, over the years Japan developed a keen interest in basketball, particularly among the middle and high school students who often play while in gym classes. In fact, in 2021, during the Olympic Games, the women's basketball team won their first-ever silver medal.

8. Rugby

Most common sports in Japan
Team Japan celebrates during the World Cup match against Spain in Doha, Qatar, on 1st December 2022. Photo: Foto Olimpik
Source: Getty Images

Rugby is known to be among the oldest sports in the world, as the first match was first played in the 19th century. But even though that was the case, it somehow found its way around the world to other countries such as Japan. Moreover, the nation exploited and won the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

Japan is among the first countries to practice rugby, and that is why, being a contact sport, it is very popular in the archipelago. 2023 marks around 12 years since its inception in the country, had has so far been registering tremendous progress.

7. Puroresu

At the seventh position is the Puroresu sport. It is a contact sport also referred to as Japanese wrestling. It was first introduced in the country by a legendary Sumo wrestler, Sorakichi Matsuda. It combines wrestling and free fighting.

However, the game was made popular in the country by wrestler Rikidozan in the 1950s. Even though Rikidozan passed away after being murdered by a yakuza, as of 2023, he is still considered the father of Japanese wrestling.

Even at his death, it continues to be particularly adored and appreciated by the Japanese nationals, who often come in big numbers to watch various Puroresu matches. And while one might assume that it is a man's game, women have also dedicated some time aside just to learn about their way around the ring.

However, theirs is the Joshi Puroresu, with Fumiake being the first famous female wrestler.

6. Boxing

Which sport is popular in Japan?
WBA, WBC, and IBF world boxing bantamweight champion Naoya Inoue (R) punches Britain's Paul Butler, the WBO champion on 13 December 2022. Photo: Kyodo News
Source: Getty Images

As the list continues, you will come to a realization that Japan is more exposed to contact sports than any other given type of game. For starters, boxer Irie Sena, took the country to glory when he bagged a gold medal in 2021 at the Olympic Games in the featherweight category.

The nation tallies more than 1300 professional boxers and 5 world championships. It is no doubt the country stands out in this specific discipline. The most famous boxer in Japan, Naoya Inoue, is renowned for his numerous and impressive victories by KO.

5. Golf

What is the most popular sport in Japan as of 2023?
Nasa Hataoka plays her shot during the third round of the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions at Lake Nona Golf & Country Club on 21st January 2023 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Julio Aguilar
Source: Getty Images

If you thought golf was just an American and a British game, you are literally in for a show, as Japan is coming like a tsunami as far as the sport is concerned. With the country boasting over 2500 courses in the discipline, it is one of the most appreciated sports in Japan.

In 2021, the nation was widely recognized thanks to athlete Hideki Matsuyama who won the Augusta Masters, three months before the main Tokyo Olympics. On the other hand, Hinako Shibuno, the country's female golfer, made history in women's golf by winning the 2019 Women's British Open.

The two golfers have not only proven themselves but also the fact that golf is popular in Japan.

4. Sumo

What are the three most popular sports in Japan?
Fighters competing in the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament on 12th January 2023, at Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan. Photo: Kyodo News
Source: Getty Images

Another yet contact-sport, aside from Puroresu, is Sumo wrestling, the country's national sport. Although it comes out as a sacred art in the archipelago, competitions are often organized by the International Sumo Federation, which as of January 2023 counts more than 80 countries.

Taiho Koki is the most famous yokuzuna and is considered the greatest sumo wrestler in Japan.

According to various online sources, tennis, soccer, and baseball appear to be the most popular sports in the land of the Rising Sun.

3. Tennis

Most common sports in Japan
Japan's Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara play against Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in their final match in Melbourne on 29th January 2023. Photo: Kyodo News
Source: Getty Images

When fans hear about tennis, especially the women's sector, the only name that often comes to mind is Serena Williams. However, the country in question is doing more than a great job ever, it bagged its first Olympic medal in 1920.

Even though it has been more than a century since its glory in 1920, it remains a relatively less-known sport in the country. Nevertheless, the popularity of the particular racket sport constantly increases.

In fact, there are two tennis stars in the country, Kei Nishikori and Naomi Osaka who have proven time and again that tennis is not only a sport but also a passion and a hobby.

2. Soccer

What is the most popular sport in Japan as of 2023?
Yuto Nagatomo, Shuichi Gonda, and other players acknowledge supporters after a 3-1 penalty shootout defeat to Croatia in the 2022 World Cup in Al Wakrah, Qatar, on 5 December 2022. Photo: Kyodo News
Source: Getty Images

Dating back to ancient times, the land of the Rising Sun use to have its own version of soccer named, kickball. It was then named Kemari but later transformed into modern-day soccer when the British Royal Navy’s Lieutenant Archibald Douglas taught the sport to Japanese navy cadets in the late 1800s.

The Japan Professional Football League comprises nine teams with over 18 professional soccer clubs in the country. Moreover, ladies have their national soccer team referred to as the Nadeshiko Japan.

1. Baseball

As of February 2023, baseball is the most common sport in Japan. In fact, most nationals refer to it as the second religion in the country. Despite its American roots, it was still imported into the archipelago during the Meiji era in the 1870s.

The sport's fame later skyrocketed following a win from some high school students in a game against American residents. It was since that win that the game became incredibly popular in the country.

What are the most popular sports in Japan?
Baseball player Kaito Yoza of Samurai in action on 4th November 2022, in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Koji Watanabe
Source: Getty Images

The most-decorated baseball guru in the nation is Ichiro Suzuki. He took the country to glory and got crowned as Olympic champion against the United States of America during the 2020 Tokyo competitions.

Some of the most popular sports in Japan are the common ones every fan talks about. However, in the case of the two common contact games, Sumo and Puroresu, it is definite, that the country still embraces their ancient games.

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Claudia Kogi photo
Claudia Kogi
Claudia Kogi is a Kenyan content creator with over 3 years of experience. Claudia joined Sportsbrief.com as a writer in January 2022, covering sports and relatable content.
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