Japanese Ball Game - red blue yellow and green plastic ball
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What Is the History of Kemari, the Traditional Japanese Football?

Kemari is a traditional Japanese ball game that dates back over a thousand years. It is often referred to as the “ancient Japanese football” due to its similarities to the modern sport. In this article, we will delve into the history of Kemari and explore its significance in Japanese culture.

Origins of Kemari

Kemari can be traced back to the 7th century in Japan, during the Asuka period. It was initially played as a form of entertainment for the imperial court and nobility. The game was highly regarded and considered a symbol of nobility, elegance, and refinement. As such, it was primarily played by members of the aristocracy.

Rules of the Game

Unlike modern football, Kemari does not involve scoring goals. Instead, the objective is to keep the ball in the air for as long as possible, using only the feet and other body parts except for the hands. The players form a circle and pass the ball to one another using precise and controlled movements. The aim is to maintain a sense of harmony and balance throughout the game.

Influence of Zen Buddhism

Kemari’s emphasis on harmony and balance can be attributed to the influence of Zen Buddhism during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Zen Buddhism emphasized the importance of mindfulness and focus, which became integral to the practice of Kemari. The game became a form of meditation, allowing players to cultivate a sense of tranquility and unity with nature.

Decline and Revival

As the feudal era came to an end in Japan, Kemari’s popularity began to decline. The game became less exclusive to the nobility and started to lose its cultural significance. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in Kemari, both in Japan and internationally. Efforts have been made to preserve and promote this ancient tradition, with Kemari festivals and tournaments being organized regularly.

Kemari Today

Today, Kemari is considered an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage. It is recognized as an intangible cultural asset by the Japanese government. The game is often performed during traditional festivals, such as New Year celebrations and cherry blossom viewing events. It serves as a reminder of Japan’s rich history and traditions.

International Recognition

Kemari has also gained recognition outside of Japan. It has been showcased at various international events, such as the 2002 FIFA World Cup held in South Korea and Japan. The game’s unique blend of athleticism, skill, and grace has captivated audiences around the world, earning it a place in the global sporting community.

Preserving Tradition

In an increasingly modern and fast-paced world, the preservation of traditional games like Kemari is crucial. These games offer a glimpse into the past and provide a means of connecting with our cultural roots. Through the continued practice and promotion of Kemari, we can ensure that this ancient tradition remains alive for future generations to appreciate and enjoy.

In conclusion, Kemari holds a significant place in Japanese history and culture. Its origins can be traced back over a thousand years, and it continues to be celebrated and practiced to this day. As we strive to preserve our cultural heritage, Kemari serves as a reminder of the importance of tradition and the beauty of our shared history.