Jul. 09, 2019 UPDATE
Story & Recommendation
Observe the ancient ball game of Kemari, in this annual festival to the gods
Every 4th of January, Shimogamo Shrine practices this Shinji, festival to the gods. Kemari is recorded in ancient documents going back to the Heian period (794 to 1185), stating that the game was brought to Japan from China and was played by Japanese nobles eventually spreading out to other classes. The game disappeared during the Meiji restoration (1868 to 1912) until around 1903, when it was returned due to the creation of the Kemari Preservation Society.
The Ball and Costumes of Kemari
Kemari is played with “mari,” a ball made out of deer skin. The material is the same as that used in ancient times. The ball gets kicked around by players, and it is said to weigh around 150 grams. Do check out the wonderful outfits worn by the players as well. You can get a glimpse of history as players play the colorful outfits of Eboshi Caps, Suikan jackets, and Hakama trousers.
Past Kemari Events
The 2013 game was joined by a commentator from a Brazilian sports channel for a special report related to the Soccer World Cup held in the same year. A Weight Lifting World Champion has also made a surprise appearance in a game of Kemari in the past too. The annual games of Kemari really feel like they’re an energetic kick off to a new year.
Let's Follow the Rules of the Game
What makes this game unique is that there are no winners or losers. The game depends on the yells they call out, “ari,” “ya,” and “ou.” The third yell, “ou,” is the most crucial as it is the one that determines how good the player is. Just like a modern ball game, the game is full of claps and cheers by the audiences. You can find people enjoying the game as if they’re slipping in and out of the past and the present.
- Manner & Tips -
The festival is held in a limited space, and the crowds gather rather quickly. Please be cautious of the space and people around you as you may be observing in a crowded area with many people taking pictures. Do enjoy watching the game while being cautious of the safety of yourself and others around you.