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Kemari: a whole old ball game

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

The year of FIFA World Cup is upon us, with Brazil getting ready to host, and Japan scheduled to go head-to-head against Cote d’Ivoire, Greece and Colombia in June for a spot in the final 16. If six months is too long to wait, though, check out the ancient sport of kemari, to be held in Kyoto’s Shimogamo Shrine on Jan. 4.

Kemari, which originated in China, was a sport popular among Japanese court nobles in the seventh century. It later spread to other classes. In a match, participants take positions in a garden and use their feet to keep a deer-skin ball from touching the ground until a player finally drops it.

While this kind of footie is far less physical than today’s competitive soccer, FIFA acknowledges kemari as the ancient predecessor of its sport.

If soccer isn’t really your thing, don’t worry — the first kemari event of the year, referred to as kemari-hajime, has all the players wearing colorful ancient uniforms, hats and shoes, which should make it an entertaining game to watch.

The Kemari-Hajime event takes place at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto on Jan. 4 from 1:30 p.m. Entrance is free, but for ¥2,000 you can enjoy the best view of the match from one of the special seats. For more details, contact 075-781-0010 or visit www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp.