The Most Popular Sports in Japan

October 27 2022

There are few nations that are as passionate about their sport as Japan. The nation has been able to host some of the most prestigious events throughout the last century. Their passion for hosting the big events was evident when they put on an excellent show when hosting the, delayed, 2020 Olympics last year.

However, it isn't just athletics that the nation enjoys, as it has also hosted the Rugby World Cup and FIFA World Cup in the past, as well as the Winter Olympics. But, what are some of the most popular sports in the country?

High School baseball tournaments have a massive following in Japan.

High School baseball tournaments have a massive following in Japan.


Perhaps surprisingly, the most popular sport in Japan at present is baseball. The famous American sport is classified as the favorite sport of over 42% of the population, which is credited to the enormous rise in popularity over the previous 100 years. The sport was first introduced to the nation in 1872, and it quickly became one of the most popular sports among fans to watch.

However, it wasn't until the 1920s that the first baseball matches were played at a professional level in the country. Nowadays, there are eight club competitions in baseball, with the most prestigious of those being the Nippon Professional Baseball league. NPB is divided into two leagues, The Central League and the Pacific League, each with six teams.

The popularity of baseball is something that Major League Baseball (MLB) has tapped into in order to enhance its global reach throughout history, with matches being played between the MLB All-Stars and players from the NPB. However, the most recent meeting between the two competitions came in 2018, with Samurai Japan winning the best of a six-game series.

Sumo wrestlers line up on the dohyo (ring) before a tournament.

Sumo wrestlers line up on the dohyo (ring) before a tournament.

Sumo Wrestling

It is little surprise to see sumo wrestling among the most popular sports in Japan, as it is the national sport in the country. According to figures, it is regarded by 27.3% of the population as their favorite sport to watch. There is no surprise in its popularity in the country, as Japan remains the only country where the sport competes at a professional level. Sumo wrestling originated in Japan and has been watched by fans around the world, with fighters famous for their immense size and the outfits that they wear.

The sport is taken incredibly seriously in Japan and is still true to the roots that made it a famous pastime. That is evident from the fact that the use of salt purification from the Shinto religion remains a vitally important part of the sport. Fighters also pledge their life to reaching the top of the professional sport, as they follow rules regulated by the Japan Sumo Association, which includes living in communal sumo training stables where they spend the vast majority of their day-to-day lives following extremely strict traditions.

The sport's popularity took a hit following scandals between 2008 and 2016, but the International Sumo Federation has done an excellent job at turning the tide of public opinion back in the sport's favor, and its popularity remains exceptionally high within Japan.

Fans of the Japan soccer team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Fans of the Japan soccer team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.


It's little surprise that soccer ranks highly among the most popular sports in Japan, as it is immensely popular around the world. However, the stats show that it is the third most popular sport in Japan, with 25% of the nation recognizing the sport as their favorite. Soccer was first introduced to the Japanese in 1873, as members of the English Royal Navy taught the game and its rules to instructors at the Imperial Japanese Navy Academy. However, nowadays, it has become more popular than ever thanks to the launch of the professional J-League in 1992. That is indicated by the fact that the J-League is now widely regarded as the best domestic soccer competition in Asia.

The popularity of the sport reached new heights in 2002, as Japan, alongside co-host South Korea, became the first nation to host the World Cup in Asia. The sport's popularity was only helped by the success of the national team in the competition, as Japan was able to reach the round of 16 before being eliminated by Turkey. That remains their joint-best showing at the competition, having also reached that stage of the competition in 2010 and 2018.

However, the biggest soccer successes for Japan have come in the women's game. The national team made history in 2011 by winning the Women's World Cup, beating the United States 3-1 in a penalty shootout. They also continued that momentum four years later by reaching the final for the second straight tournament, before being beaten by the U.S. 5-2 in the final.

Honorable Mentions

While baseball, sumo wrestling, and soccer are considered the most followed sports in Japan, it is a nation that is constantly looking for high-quality action to enjoy. One of the other most popular sports in the country is tennis, which is followed by 21.7% of the nation. The popularity of the sport has certainly been enhanced in recent years following the success of two-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka.

Another of the most popular sports in the country is golf, which is followed by 13.7% of people in Japan. In fact, golf looks likely to be a sport that continues to rise in popularity for years to come after Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese player to win a major in 2021 at the Masters.

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