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Japanese Sports for Future Games

The Sports at the Olympics regularly change. In Tokyo 2020 Karate, Surfing, Sport Climbing and Skateboarding make their debut. But there are also lots of sports that Japan could have suggested to give the games an extra-Japanese flare:

Down the Mountain (Yamadashi)

We all love the bobsled type events at the Winter Olympics, but there needs to be a summer version. Yamadashi is the perfect candidate for this.

Part of the Onbashi (lit. honourable pillar) ceremony, 16 fir trees are carefully selected and cut down so that they can be placed at the corners of 4 shrines. To get the freshly felled trees from their mountainside home to their new location at the shrines, ropes are attached, and the logs are hauled down the mountains over rough terrain and down sheer drops. To make the event a little more challenging, people ride the logs to prove their bravery.

Some health and safety changes would need to be made to the sport, and for environmental reasons, reusable logs would probably be better.

Angry Table Flipping (Chabudai-gaeshi)

Some people relish watching athletes lose their cool. So why not make losing your cool the sport itself? Enter Chabudai-gaeshi: each athlete is given a Chabudai (a small wooden table) with some objects neatly placed on it. But among the objects, it’s only the fish that’s important.

The aim of the game is to flip the table from a seated position with as much force as possible. Whilst it’s nice for all the objects to get a good spread, the only way to win is to ensure the small plastic fish on your table travels further than your opponents. You’re also deducted points if you don’t make a good enough scream at the start.

At the 12th annual world championships, the winning distance was 8.3 metres. It was won by a professional basketball player from Iwate prefecture. If you want to practice you’re angry table flipping, there are a few arcades in Japan that still have a digital version.


Did you know croquet used to be an Olympic sport? At the 1900 Paris games the Olympics' only croquet gold medal was won by France (as was silver and bronze, in fact, all 10 participants were French). But Gateball is effectively a fast-paced strategic version of croquet.

At the most recent world championships, a team from Brazil narrowly beat a team from China to claim the title. The aim of the game is to knock numbered balls, using a mallet, through numbered gates in order and eventually hitting only a thin peg. The game relies on skill and tactics (including smashing your opponents’ ball outside the field of play) and so can be played any age or gender together.

Bring the Pole Down (Bo-Taoshi)

This sport is traditionally played at Japanese military academies by their cadets and makes rugby and its wheelchair equivalent look like a pillow fight. Teams of 150 people (not a typo) must try and lower their opponent’s pole from vertical to below a 30-degree angle.

Only a few players on either side actually try and pull the pole down, most of the others surround the pole making it difficult for the opponents to get to it. One unfortunate soul sits on top the pole and acts as the final line of defence.

Each match only lasts 2 minutes and it is incredibly fast paced and aggressive sport.

Yabusame (Horseback Archery)

This traditional Japanese sport would combine two existing Olympic sports, Equestrian and Archery. Each archer rides a horse and shoots three arrows, with a turnip shaped head, at a small wooden target suspended in the air.

It doesn’t matter where you hit the target, just so long as you hit it, the arrows aren’t meant to piece the target. This dates all the way back to the 12th century, when an army fleeing by sea hung a small fan on their boat as a challenge to the enemy archers.

A samurai called Nasu no Yoichi took up the challenge by riding his horse into the sea and shooting the fan cleanly. His feat is still celebrated today at temples by Yabusame archers.

Honourable Mention

Yukigasen (Snow battle)

We’re looking forward to a Sapporo Winter Olympics bid, and this would be a fantastic sport to add.

Yukigasen is the most serious form of snowball fighting possible. Teams of 7 players on each team play with 90 premade snowballs. The aim of the game is similar to capture the flag and a player is eliminate if they are hit with a snowball.

With only a dozen snowballs each, tactics and timing are very important in this game and it would make an excellent addition to the 2030 Winter Games.

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