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Spiritual Home of Rugby, Martial Arts and More: Kyoto’s Sporting Tradition Shines Brighter than Ever

March 15, 2019 Visit North Asia No Comments Email Email

Ancient Capital, Cultural Heart of Japan, City of Shrines- whilst Kyoto’s cultural appeal needs no introduction, its tradition of sports is one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

With the Rugby World Cup held in Japan for the first time this year, sports enthusiasts will have more reasons than ever to take on the trip to the land of the rising sun and whilst no matches are planned in Kyoto, the city is still a must-visit, luring travellers with a deep-rooted history and connection with rugby.

First introduced by an English educator, Edward Bramwell Clarke, who taught the game to students of Keio University in Tokyo in 1899, rugby quickly gained popularity and, in 1969, the commemorative stone monument,Dai-isshuu-no-chi (“The location of the First Kick”) was donated to Kyoto’s Shimogamo-jinja Shrine near the Tadasu-no-mori Forest, where the Kyoto rugby team used to practice. Since then, the shrine became a place of worship associated with rugby.

Kyoto’s connection with the sport on the international scene was further deepened when it played host to the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw in May 2017. This was the first time a pool draw for the Rugby World Cup took place outside of the UK and Ireland.

Acknowledging the spiritual home of rugby in Japan, the national New Zealand Student team, which played against the Kansai Japan Student team in May 2018, visited and performed a Haka dance at the Shimogamo Shrine.

But apart from rugby, there is plenty of other sport-based action happening in Kyoto.

Highlights include:

  • World Masters Games Kansai 2021-Kyoto to host the opening ceremony: An international multi-sport athletic competition held every four years in the year following the Olympics by the International Masters Games Association (IMGA), an association for athletes over the age of 30 reaching into their middle ages and senior years. The opening ceremony will be held in the Okazaki area where Heian Shrine and the Okazaki park are located
  • Kyoto Marathon: Held every February on a course that takes participants past 7 UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites and many picturesque vistas that Kyoto is well known for.
  • Sporting home for Japanese martial arts: Kyoto’s Budo Center is the historical home for Judo, Kendo (Japanese fencing), Karate, Sumo, Kyudo (Japanese archery) and Naginata (long-handled sword). Originally called Butoku-den, and established in 1899, the oldest martial art building in Japan, the Budo Center is not only used for competitions but also as a daily sports training site by Kyoto citizens.

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