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History of Football - The Japanese

Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. How did it start and why is it so popular ?
To answer those questions, we'll go back in time.

One of the earliest forms of soccer in which players kicked a ball on a small field has been traced as far back as 1004 BC in Japan. Legend has it that slightly later than the Chinese, the Japanese started playing a football game called "Kemari". Official records show the game of "Kemari" may have started a few hundred years later but it is highly likely that some type of game existed earlier. In fact a recently discovered text states that there was a game between Chinese "Tsu Chu" players and Japanese "Kemari" players in approximately 50 BC. Obviously this changes the date of origin dramatically and if true, it is also the first recognized international match. The Munich Ethnological Museum in Germany has a Chinese text from approximately 50 BC that mentions games very similar to soccer that were played between teams from China and Japan, and it's known for sure that a soccer game was played in 611 AD in the ancient Japanese capital Kyoto.

The game of "Kemari" was, and is, for all intense purposes a game of "keepy-uppy". It involved a ball, which was made of deerskin and stuffed with sawdust. The ball was about 8 inches in diameter and was kicked between players. There could be a varying number of players (anywhere from 2 to 12 players) and the game was not competitive but required great levels of skill. There was no tackling or vying for the ball as in football nowadays, the ball was simply passed from player to player in the air. The ball was only touched with the feet and when a player (called a "mariashi") got the ball he was allowed to kick the ball in the air as many times as he liked in order to control the ball. Then he would pass the ball to another player. When a player received the ball and was controlling it, he would shout "ariyaaa" everytime he touched the ball. When the ball was finally kicked to another player the last shout would be "ari". Hence, you would hear a player shout "ariyaa, ariyaa, ariyaa, ari" until he got the ball back. "Kemari" was played on a pitch (called a "kikutsubo") marked out by trees. The aristocrats would grow trees in specific areas in their gardens so as to have a permanent pitch. Others grew trees in pots so that they could mark out the pitch dependent on the number of people playing. The four trees used to mark out the pitch were normally a cherry tree, a maple, a willow and a pine.

Many hundreds of years later, Japanese players styled an outfit to wear when playing "Kemari" and the game was incredibly popular between the 10th and 16th centuries. Some researchers believe that Marco Polo (1254-1324) found "Kemari" and brought it back to Europe as a forerunner to football. However, football was already in Europe at that time so I am afraid we cannot give Marco Polo any credit for the discovery of football.

One amusing kemari anecdote : an emperor and his kemari team were able to keep up the ball once for over 1.000 kicks, poets wrote of the day claiming that the ball "seemed suspended, hanging in the sky". The emperor was so pleased that he retired the ball, and gave it a high court rank, essentially ennobling the thing and making it a viscount.

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Page updated on... Friday, July 25, 2014 @ 23:04:28 -0700 PM - GMT
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