Let’s talk sports: the Olympics and the popularity of sports in Japan

Let’s talk sports: the Olympics and the popularity of sports in Japan

LL-logo-blueThis post is contributed by Chikako. Chikako is a language tutor at LinguaLift, an online language school teaching Japanese.

We, Japanese people, always get very excited before the Olympic events. Personally, I think the way we approach the games can hardly be compared to anywhere else in the world! But, I’m Japanese, so I might be biased 😉


In Japan the Olympics are more popular than other sports events, such as the World Cup. During the games all TV programs are full of exclusive broadcasting with reporters designated to covering the events. Everyday the names of the medal-winning athletes are featured on the top page of every newspaper.


When the Olympics start, the land-mark tower of Tokyo gets light up especially to celebrate the event.

Screen Shot 2016-09-19 at 10.08.51 AM

(Pic from https://www.tokyotower.co.jp/event/illumination/olympic-paralympic/index.html)

The Japanese athletes who have been chosen to represent the country at the Olympics receive gifts before they leave for the games: money, cards and… plenty of farewell-parties! Needless to add, if they come back with a medal, they are welcomed with big festivities to celebrate their triumph. Each winning athlete receives an award from the mayor of their city and for a long time remains a hero of both the country and their town.


During the Olympic games, a lot of people get together to watch live transmissions on big screens set up in their home towns, schools, or even their companies. People go to great lengths to cheer the athlets they support. It’s a common sight to see fans wearing the same uniforms as the Japanese sports team, yelling through megaphones and even crying while watching inerviews with the medalists. Fans in Japan develop a very strong emotional attachment with the sportspeople!


Sporty Japanese

Following the sport on TV is one thing, how about practising sports in Japan?


Let’s have a look at the number of people engaging in each sport.


I’m not sure if walking should be included in this list as a sport, but it is definitely a popular pass-time in Japan.


Now, let’s see which sports at the Rio Olympics 2016 got most attention from the Japanese viewers. Here are the top eight:

image (1)

The conclusions are simple: there is a clear difference between what we enjoy watching and what we actually do in our spare time.


However, you could argue that the data talking about a special event like the Olympics does not reflect the geneal sentiment of the Japanese population. And you’d be right!


If you look at the sports with the highest fan base in Japan the statistics are quite different. According to Central Research Service the most popular game is baseball, with 41.7% fans declaring it being their favourite sport, the second and third ones are soccer and tennis with 29% and 22.4% of the sports’ fans respecitvely.


There are professional leagues for baseball and soccer in Japan. When people get very involved in sport we no longer call them just fans (ファン), but rather supporters (サポーター). In Japanese the difference between the two is that a fan is just a “watcher”, while a supporter can be aggressive during the games: yelling, jumping, “going crazy” at the studium. And, if their team looses, it really badly affects their mood!

The Olympics come to Tokyo

A sports event that the Japanese are already excited about is of course the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.


The whole country is already preparing for the event. All the major Japanese companies are listed as the sponsors or official partners of the competition. Apart from a number of new stadiums getting constructed, there are also wi-fi network developments taking place everywhere in Tokyo, almost all hotels are getting renovated, and heaps of new accomodation are being built.


The online official shop dedicated to the games is already working, and a selection process to choose a musician to perform at the ceremony has also been commenced.


The upcoming games also have a large impact on the economy, and the life of the local people. The value and prices of the land have increased, and there is much more demand for jobs in sectors like construction, translation, security, transport and tourism.


The Olympics also have an effect on the language proficiency of the Japanese people. Employees in the industries listed above receive extensive English training, and there already seem to be more English signs in the city itself. The government has invested a lot to make the event run smoothly.


Let’s all hope or an amazing event in Tokyo in 2020!


Let’s practice sport-talk


Even though many Japanese people are learning English to help international fans feel at home, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your Japanese study pursuits! Here are a few phrases to help you talk about sports with your Japanese friends:



@@ won a gold/silver/bronze medal in 〜〜.


(@@ga、〜〜de kin-medaru/gin-medal/do-medal wo tori mashi ta!)



@@ beat their own record


(@@ga、jiko-shinkiroku wo dasi mashita!)



which team is your favourite?


(Dono chi-mu no fan des ka?)



what sport do you follow?


(Dono supo-tsu ga suki des ka?)



have you seen yesterday’s game?


(Kinou no shiai mita?)



@@ has won!


(@@ga kattayo!)



Do you play any sports?


(Nanika supo-tsu wo shimas ka?)



Have you been to a @@ game before?


(@@no shiai ni itta koto arimas ka?)



@@ broke the Olympic record!


(@@ga, orinpikku shin kiroku wo dashita yo!)



I think I’ll take up tennis next year.


(Rainen, tenisu wo hajime yoto omoi mas.)



The team lost by 5 points.


(Go ten sa de make mashita.)



The team won by 3 goals.


(San go-ru totte kachi mashita.)



Who’s winning?


(Docchi ga katteru?)



Who’s playing today?


(Dare ga deteru?)



What’s the score?


(Ima nan ten?)

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