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One of most heart-warming memories of the soccer World Cup will be the rival players exchanging their shirts after each game.

How things have changed: At the time of the 1932 Olympic Games, the male competitors wore one-piece costumes of silk that were so expensive several Japanese swimmers had to share one outfit.

Located beneath the stands of National Stadium in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, the Prince Chichibu Memorial Sports Museum illustrates the history of Japanese athletics with a collection of exhibits.

Named after the late Prince Chichibu, a younger brother of the late Emperor Showa and a sports enthusiast, the museum features information panels and memorabilia depicting the history of the Olympic Games, historic sporting equipment and outfits, old photos and posters, as well as works of art related to sports.

The exhibition includes information on classical Japanese sports that were played here before modern games were introduced late in the 19th century, including “kemari” football, which was played by court nobles from the seventh century.

Many of the exhibits will revive memories and stimulate the imagination of sports-lovers simply for their stories.

The collection includes a half-silver and half-bronze medal, known as “the medal of friendship,” that was presented to Japanese pole vaulters Shuhei Nishida and Sueo Oe after they decided not to compete for second place when the competition went on into the night at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

Asked to autograph a soccer ball for the exhibition, legendary Argentina striker Diego Maradona insisted that he would sign the ball only if all his teammates signed it together, according to the museum’s director, Takamichi Mikami.

The ball signed by every member of the 1979 Argentina team that played in the World Youth Tournament in Tokyo is currently on display as part of a special exhibition on Japan’s soccer history that runs through July 14.

Mikami said he believes the “golden era” of Japan’s sports history was between the early 1910s and the early 1930s, when sports were mostly a past-time of college students.

One little-known fact is that baseball was so popular during this period that even Emperor Showa owned an Imperial Household Agency team that was good enough to win a Tokyo amateur league.

But sports were misused by authorities as a tool to stimulate nationalism as Japan walked the path to war in subsequent years.

The relationship between sports and the country’s history can be seen in posters for sporting competitions.

“When Western sports were introduced to Japan in the late 19th century, sports were translated as ‘yugi’ (amusements),” Mikami said. “But ‘taiiku’ (physical education) later became the more common interpretation of sports in Japan.

“I believe the 21st century will be a time when people can again enjoy sports,” he said.

English explanations for the museum’s exhibits will be available soon, Mikami said.

The museum’s library boasts 30,000 sports-related books and 270 periodical titles, including foreign ones.

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