What is Sports Day in Japan?

by Krystina Quintana

What is Sports Day in Japan?

A child running with a baton on Sports Day in Japan

The 1964 Summer Olympics left a lasting effect on Japan, helping inspire the creation of Sports Day Japan only two years later. This holiday encourages Japanese residents to stay active and healthy (mind and body) via various sports activities. Once known as Health-Sports Day, this national holiday is perpetuated by schools and businesses via an annual field day. 

Sports Day Japan is a popular public holiday celebrated for nearly 50 years to provide an environment that pushes everyone from student to adult to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

When is Sports Day?

Sports Day Japan is celebrated each year on the second Monday of October. This year, it happens to fall on October 10, 2022. This national sports festival occurs only a few weeks after Respect for the Aged Day, held on the third Monday of September.

During Sports Day, a large festival occurs where Japanese people are split into various groups by neighborhood, area, or school. Then, they are led through a large parade with a performance by the local marching band. Next, the national anthem is performed, and the Japanese flag is raised before the sports portion of the event occurs.  

What is the History of Sports Day?

The initial Sports Day Japan was held on October 10, 1966. This event occurred two years after the Tokyo Olympic Games, specifically scheduled in October, so they did not coincide with Japan's rainy season. 

Three children with pom poms on Sports Day in Japan

In 2000, the holiday was shifted to the second Monday in October per the Happy Monday System, a new ruling which helps create 3-day weekends for people in Japan. Then, in 2020, the holiday’s name was changed from Health and Sports day to Sports Day. As the Olympic games were set to occur in Tokyo this year, the date of Sports Day Japan shifted again to July 24 to coincide with the Olympics. 

Undōkai: Celebrating Sports Day in Schools

During the Japanese school year, in March, elementary school students celebrate Undōkai. This sporting event teaches children to work together in teams. Typically, during this holiday, students will be split into two teams. There is usually a red team and a white team. This school sports day is less about competition and more about how students can band together with their teammates. There aren’t even any trophies or awards handed out during these activities!

Undōkai Events

Quite a few events occur during Undōkai, including a relay race. Two relay races occur, one with the quickest students in third grade or below. The other race includes the fastest runners from fourth grade and up. Below, you'll find some other events that occur during Undōkai.

Kumitaiso

Kumitaiso is an event where students perform a group gymnastics routine. This event is only performed by sixth graders and occurs near the end of the day. It’s an event that’s somewhere between a coordinated dance and a gymnastics display. This is one event that everyone stops to watch. 

Ootama-okuri

Also known as "big ball pass-on," this event is popular during Undōkai. During ootama-okuri, every student in the school gathers. Then, the white team stays on one side and the red on the other. Then, each team is tasked with passing an oversized ball along the line until it successfully reaches a stand. 

The activities will also vary by school, with some opting for activities like tug-o-war instead.

Enjoy Healthy Snacks on Sports Day

Of course, it wouldn't be Sports Day without healthy snacks for fueling up before each athletic event (or before the sports festival). Below are some popular healthy snacks a Japanese person might eat before Sports Day Japan. 

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a popular street food in the form of dough balls mixed with octopus or other seafood bits. These snack balls are served with different sauces on top. If you can't get your hands on fresh Takoyaki, you can also try snacks like Japan Frito-Lay Takoyaki Tei Corn Puffs (1 Piece) or Ajikaru Happy Turn: Takoyaki Sauce (10 Bags) for a similar taste.

Edamame

Another popular, healthy snack is edamame, protein-rich soybeans that come in a pod. Typically, they're eaten with a sprinkling of salt, as they're quite tasty on their own. However, you can also eat them in a senbei, aka cracker, form. These Senbei Lab Edamame Senbei (1 Piece) snacks are baked with real bits of edamame. 

These are only a few of the snacks that are eaten for Sports Day Japan. Other snacks include yakisoba (fried noodle dish), bento boxes, and donburi (rice bowls with meat and fish toppings).