5 Japanese sports you won’t see at the Olympic Games

Men ride on a giant log down a hill

(Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Staff)

Japan is famous for its sports, but here are some you won’t be seeing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 this year!

Sumo wrestling

Sumo wrestlers in the ring.
A sumo wrestler throws salt in the air before the match. (Photo by jpellgen (@1179_jp) via Visualhunt licensed CC BY-NC-ND)

Sumo (say "soo-mo") is a kind of competitive wrestling. In Japanese, the word means striking one another. That’s because the way to win a sumo match is to push your opponent out of a circular ring, or force a part of their body to touch the ground.

The heavier the wrestler is, the more power they have. In fact, the biggest sumo wrestler ever was 589 pounds of pure muscle!

Sumo wrestling is over 1,000 years old and not a lot has changed.

Before every match the wrestlers perform an ancient ritual: they throw salt in the air to purify the ring and stomp on the ground. That’s to squash any bad spirits that might be nearby! 


A group dressed for winter poses in the snow. They all are holding snowballs.
A team poses for a picture with their yukigassen team. (Photo by Bibliothèques de Montréal via Visual hunt/CC BY-NC-ND)

Yukigassen (say “you-kee-gas-in”) is a Japanese snowball fight competition. To win at Yukigassen, your team must capture the other team’s flag or eliminate all their players by hitting them with snowballs.

Basically the game is kind of like dodgeball meets capture the flag, except with snow!

Snowballs are in limited supply though; only 90 can be made before the game starts, so aim is important if you want to win!


Men ride on a giant log down a hill.
Men ride on a giant log down a hill. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Staff)

Onbashira (say “on-ba-she-ra”) isn’t really a sport, but if you think riding a giant log down a steep mountain sounds like fun, then this is the game for you!

The Onbashira Festival is held every six years in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano, Japan.

During this big event, 16 fir trees are cut down to replace the posts of four buildings of the Suwa Grand Shrine.

It is tradition for young men to prove their bravery by riding the logs down the mountain. This is called the kiotoshi (say "key-o-toe-shi") which means tree falling. It’s a pretty wild and bumpy ride!


Men wearing protective gear in bare feet defend a pole.
Bo-Taoshi is known as one of Japan's most dangerous sports. (Photo by DozoDomo via Wikimedia licensed CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bo-taoshi (say "bo-tie-o-shee") is Japan’s pole toppling sport and it’s famous for its size. Two teams of up to 150 players each try to knock down a pole and win the game!

The most important member of each team is called the ninja. The ninja is a single player who sits at the top of the pole to protect it. 


Person on a high-powered speed boat
These boats are so fast that the race is over in just two minutes! (Photo by Bibliothèques de Montréal via Visual hunt/CC BY-NC-ND)

Kyotei (say "ki-o-tay") is the Japanese sport of high powered boat racing! Boaters race around human-made lakes on small boats that are amazingly fast.

It’s kind of like the Indy 500, but on water! Six boats face off on a 1,800-metre track for three laps. The race is usually over in under two minutes, so don’t blink because you might miss it!