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Ancient 'kemari' football game marks New Year at Kyoto shrine for 1st time in 2 years

Members of preservation group Shukiku Hozonkai participate in the ancient "kemari" football game at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward on Jan. 4, 2022. (Mainichi/Kazuki Yamazaki) =Click/tap photo for more images.

KYOTO -- People dressed in colorful historical robes demonstrated a game of ancient "kemari" football during an annual New Year event held at Kyoto's Shimogamo Shrine on Jan. 4.

    The event is organized by the Shukiku Hozonkai, an association that aims to preserve "kemari," a game brought to Japan from China during the Asuka period from around the late 6th to 8th century. Kemari was enjoyed among locals during the Edo period (1603-1867), but was nearly extinct by the Meiji period (1868-1912). Rather than being a competitive sport, its objective is to keep the ball up in the air as players pass it to each other.

    The event was held for the first time in two years after being canceled in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Eight members of the preservation group took turns kicking a white ball made of deer skin while their vividly colored sleeves swayed elegantly with their movements.

    Lessons on the ancient football game, held thrice monthly in the city of Kyoto before the pandemic, had just resumed in December 2021 after a blank of one year and 10 months.

    Shukiku Hozonkai director Tsunehiro Ueda, 75, said, "It's fun when the ball is passed around without touching the ground for a long time. It was a good start to the New Year."

    (Japanese original by Yoko Minami, Kyoto Bureau)

    In Photos: Japan's ancient football game played in colorful robes at Kyoto shrine

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