Ancient Football Game Kicks Off New Year At Kyoto Shrine

Ancient football game kicks off New Year at Kyoto shrineMen dressed in traditional ancient Japanese attire celebrated the New Year at a shrine here by demonstrating “kemari,” a ball-kicking game that was popular with nobility during the Heian Period (794-1185).

The annual exhibition was held Jan. 4 at Shimogamojinja shrine in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward.

Eight colorfully costumed players kept aloft a white deerskin ball with their right foot and passed it among themselves without touching it with their hands or arms. They played on a 15-meter square court while calling out, "Ari," "Ya" and "Oh."

The objective is to keep the ball from touching the ground. Kemari, a noncompetitive sport, is a demonstration of the players' passing and footwork skills.

Kemari is said to have originated in continental Asia and came to Japan during the Asuka Period (538-710).

It is practiced today by members of Shukiku Hozonkai, an association founded during the Meiji Era (1868-1912) to preserve and pass down ancient traditions and techniques.