While the promotion of health and sports is fairly widespread throughout the countries of the world, Japan went to the extreme in promoting sports among its population by creating a national holiday that advocates an active and healthy lifestyle prompted by the 1964 Olympic Games.
Asia’s First Olympic Games
The 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games was a significant event for all of Asia, especially for Japan. As the first Olympics to be held in Asia it signified the advancement of the Asian region as a whole and for Japan it provided a global stage to impress the world with the level of its economic growth and development since the devastation of World War II.
Not only was hosting the Olympics a boost for Japanese pride and morale, but it also brought with it further economic growth in the form of improved infrastructure. In preparation for the games the government constructed the first bullet train, the Tokaido Shinkansen, as well as the Metropolitan and Meishin Expressways.
Most importantly, in terms of the Olympics themselves, the government established athletic programs which undoubtedly played a role in Japan’s final medal count of 29, third after the United States and the Soviet Union, which in turn contributed to the spread of sports clubs and training centers across the country.
A New National Holiday
To commemorate the spirit of the 1964 games, in 1966 the Japanese government declared October 10, the opening day of the ’64 Olympics, a national holiday called Taiiku no Hi, translated as Health and Sports Day. October is late for a summer Olympics, but due to Japan’s rainy summer season meteorologists determined that mid-October would provide optimal weather conditions. As a result, the holiday is also generally favored with good weather. In support of a three-day weekend the holiday’s original October 10th date was changed to the second Monday of October in 2000.
Most schools from kindergarten up hold undoukai (athletic meets) around this time in the spirit of the holiday. Children are generally divided into two teams (red and white) and compete in games including tsunahiki(tug-of-war), kibasen (a mock cavalry battle), and creative dance.
The government also takes part in promoting physical activity with its Japan Sports Association (JASA) organizing a National Sports and Health Day Festival every year in Tokyo. While only elementary and middle school children can participate in the various sport events, track and field, soccer, swimming, boxing, and fencing for instance, elementary children through adults can participate in other health related games, fitness tests, and learn about nutrition.
National Sports Festival
On a much larger scale, the government also organizes a National Sports Festival which has been an annual event since 1946, although not made official until 1961 under the Sports Promotion Law. All 47 prefectures participate and it is organized jointly by JASA, the Ministry Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the hosting prefecture.
Chiba Prefecture hosted this year’s main events which lasted from September 25, 2010 through October 5, 2010 and included, among others, hockey, sailing, badminton, softball, wrestling, fencing, basketball and more traditional sports such as sumo, archery, kendo (Japanese sword fighting), and naginata (a pole weapon with a long wooden handle and curved blade on the end). Skiing, skating, and ice hockey competitions are winter events held in January and February and usually hosted by another prefecture.