Japan’s National Sports Festival: Kokutai --- the World’s Largest?

This year of 2021 marks 109 years since the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, the first games in which a team from Japan participated. With the ending of the Tokyo Olympics 2020, Japan’s own sports season begins. Autumn is the season most closely associated with sports in Japan, to the extent that it is referred to as “Sports no Aki” (Autumn of Sports). The second Monday each October is a national holiday, Sports Culture Day, and October is also the month in which Japan’s largest event, the National Sports Festival (Kokumin Taiiku Taikai), is held. This day was once the opening of the Tokyo Olympics 1964 and it has been a national holiday ever since.

The purpose of this festival, according to its charter, is: “To disseminate sports widely among the citizens, elevate the spirit of sports while advancing improvement in the people’s health, and while contributing to promotion of regional sports and development of regional culture, brighten and enrich the nation’s livelihood.”

Japan’s first National Sports Festival was held in 1946 in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe region, mainly in Kyoto. Since then, the festival has been held every year with prefectures competing against one another, with prefectures taking turns to host the festival. In 1961, the National Sports Festival was made an official annual event under the Sports Promotion Law, and since then the festivals have been held jointly by the Japan Sports Association, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and the hosting prefectures.

Including events held during winter, in 2019, up to 38 events have been organized, in which 22,000 athletes participated. As the combined number of participants in the Olympic Games is about 13,000, the National Sports Festival is a huge event by any criteria. The autumn festival last year was held in Ibaraki Prefecture followed by the National Sports Festival for People with Disabilities. Last year's event was cancelled for the first time due to the coronavirus. This year, 2021 will be held in Mie Prefecture, but likely to be cancelled again and postponed due to the pandemic.

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