Sun, Sea and Soccer: Summertime Sports in Japan
If you’re from Europe like me, then you may not typically associate the summertime with sports. For most Europeans, summer is a time when sports go into shutdown. Most of the major European soccer leagues, with the exception of the Nordic nations, finish up around late April/early May and don’t resume again until September. European competitions start up again in July, but unless you are part of that fortunate elite, you’re probably going to have a few months of sitting around, feeling restless while you wait for your chosen team to get back to business.
Photo: Gulhem Vellut on Flickr
It’s a similar story for fans of rugby, basketball, indeed most major sports in Europe. While we may get the fortunate distraction of an Olympics or a World Cup every couple of years, these month long events only go some way to plugging the gap.
Thankfully, here in Japan, the sports’ organizing bodies see things a little differently. There is very little of the European aversion to summertime sports prevalent here. Indeed, if you are a sports fan, there’s probably no better time to visit Japan than the summer.
The Japanese soccer season runs inversely to the European season. The J-League kicks-off its 3 divisions in April, and runs right through to November. Whilst the top flight (known as J-1) takes a 2-week break in August, when the summer heat and humidity is at its peak, J-2 and J-3 continue playing right through the summer.
Photo: Ace of Diamond on Flickr
More information on the teams, venues and fixtures for this year’s J1, J-2 and J-3 League season can be found at the official J-League website.
Clearly Japan’s soccer stars seem to lack the aversion to hot weather that seems to afflict their European counterparts. It’s a similar case for Japanese baseball. The Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League gets underway in the last week of March and runs until the championship game at the end of October. In the intervening 7 months you will find baseball games taking place almost every day. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a baseball fan, but certainly to a number of my American and Japanese friends there are few things in life more pleasurable than a summer afternoon, sipping a cold beer and enjoying a “ball-game”.
The 12 teams that compete in the Pacific and Central Leagues over the full length and breadth of Japan. So wherever you happen to be staying in Japan, you are never too far away from professional baseball. For more information on teams, fixtures and tickets, consult the official NPB website.
If you want to blend some culture with your sporting passions, and also escape the sometimes stifling heat of the Japanese summer, then July is also the perfect time to take in some Sumo. There is always at least one Sumo Basho (Grand Tournament) held in the summer months. 2015 is no different with the Aichi Prefectural Tournament running from July 12 to July 26.
Photo: Joel Kabahit on Flickr
For ticket enquiries and further information visit the Nihon Sumo Kyokai official website.
For most school children, summer is a time to take it easy, to get away from the schoolyard and recharge the batteries. Not so for Japanese schoolkids however. It is the summertime when “bukatsu” (school sports clubs) kick into high gear.
Daily training morning and afternoon, often 6 or 7 days a week prepares the students for the various tournaments, both local and national held across the nation throughout July and August. For the teachers and other volunteers who so graciously give their time to help these students, these tournaments are the final pay-off of months of intensive training and preparation.
Photo: Nori Norisa on Flickr
Whilst the ability level of course falls well short of professional standards, the passion, commitment and energy of these fine young athletes is enthralling and thrilling to behold. If there are any local youth sports tournaments going on in your area and you have a free afternoon, you could do a lot worse than go and watch some of the sporting stars of tomorrow strut their stuff.
Of course summer isn’t just a great time to watch sports, it’s also a great time to get off your lazy butt and play some sports too.
Japan offers world class community sporting facilities, usually available for a very reasonable fee. If you’ve read my previous blog about dieting and exercise in Japan, hopefully you’ve already enquired about joining a gym. Whilst the gym may seem like a solitary experience to some, this is not always the case. Many of the larger municipal gyms across Japan also offer team sports like futsal, basketball and many others. Of course the old favourites of tennis, squash and badminton are also abundantly available. If the weather is good you could always just grab a ball and some friends and hit a local park. Please be considerate of local laws and follow signs were guided though, as some parks may have restrictions and/or prohibitions in relation to ball games.
Photo: Cliffano Subagio on Flickr
Running is another popular sporting pastime in Japan in the summer months. With so many beautiful parks, rivers and lakes dotted up and down the country, you’re sure to find a scenic running route near you. Of course if running is too strenuous, then why not jog or even just simply walk. For the fitness-conscious among you, research indicates that walking a mile uses just as much energy or calories as running a mile does. Indeed from my own point of view, in the early stages of my weight loss regimen, when, frankly, the thought of strenuous exercise terrified me, walking was a great way to kick start my dive towards fitness and weight loss.
However, I would also advise caution. Whilst running and jogging are undoubtedly good for your health, the heat of the Japanese summer can be intense. Make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen, and ideally a cap or hat that protects your head and neck from too much exposure to the sun. Avoid running during the hottest times, usually between 12pm and 3pm, and always take plenty of water. As soon as you start to feel tired or dizzy, stop immediately and rehydrate.
Like all things, sports and exercise are best enjoyed in moderation. Enjoy yourself, and don’t overdo it.
Have a great summer!