footy weekends -Kyoto & Brighton-

Let's meet up for a game

The oldest form of soccer… You mean football
- New Year Kemari at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto

最古のサッカー... いいえ、フットボール - 下鴨神社にて蹴鞠はじめ

I often end up engaging in banter about the word ‘football’ versus ‘soccer’ with my North American friends and new acquaintances from across the pond. They seem to find it highly amusing that for someone who rarely voices their opinion strongly, I will quickly jump off my English garden fence, to fight for the term (the correct term) ‘football’ over ‘soccer’. And as I proceed into a lengthy and vitriolic justification of the use due to the origins of sport and how the current official version we know and love now with all it’s rules and regulations, was formed in England where the term ‘football’ is commonly used (sorry, there I go again), they often have to suppress fits of giggles at my protestations.


If I am lucky enough to get them to accept this, the next round of banter involves them taking the Michael out of my pronunciation of the word. I then never cease to take delight (revenge) by having them repeat after me in their best Dick Van Dyke accent the word ‘football’ over and over again, ensuring that history is preserved.


As someone who feels the need to stick-up for the origins of the game, I was intrigued to discover the game Kemari, which FIFA has recognised to be the oldest form of football. Kemari is an ancient community sport dating back to about the 6th century when it was introduced to Japan from China. It is fundamentally a ball kicking game, where 4 - 8 people stand in a circle using everything apart from their hands to pass the ball to one another.


As a warm-up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, a Kemari event was held at Shimogamo Shrine, Kyoto, on 31st May, where Hidetoshi Nakata, ex-national player for Japan, joined an ancient ceremony to pray for Japan’s national team’s success in the tournament.

Seeing the players in all their Heian finery, with wide-legged trousers, heavily embellished jackets with floor length sleeves, and heavy leather boots, it is incredible that they are able to get the ball into the air, and keep it there in such a graceful version of keepy-uppy.

Their enviable ball control skills despite the heavy layers of silk that float around them, are a true art form that any footy fan should witness. Shimogamo Shrine hosts the ‘Kemari hajime’ event- the ‘first Kemari’ or ‘first kick-about’ each year on the 4th January.

2014年のFIFA World Cupを盛り上げる一環で、同年5月31日、京都市にある下鴨神社で蹴鞠のイベントが行われました。元日本代表選手・中田英寿氏は、ブラジルに渡った日本代表チームの成功を祈るため、この伝統的な式に参加しました。



Event information: (Japanese)

Shimogamo Shrine information: (English)




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