Sports and Health Day (体育の日): A Reminder of What’s Important

Sports and Health Day in Japan is more closely associated with exercise, the community and healthy-eating, but is there anything else we should pay attention to?

Posted by on October 9, 2017 – Life in Japan

Today is Sports and Health Day (Taiiku no Hi, 体育の日), a Japanese national holiday held annually on the second Monday of October. The holiday launched in 1966 following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, to encourage healthy living and an active lifestyle.

Despite the Olympics usually being held during the summer months, the Tokyo games were held in October to avoid the energetic rain of the rainy season.

How is Health and Sports Day Celebrated?

Staying true to the Olympic spirit, Sports and Health Day is not only about fitness, but also connecting with others to have fun. It follows that perhaps the best way to mark this day is with a field day, known in Japanese as undoukai (運動会).

Throughout Japan, schools and businesses host “mini-Olympics”, of sorts. Each undoukai has a unique sports schedule, from track-and-field events to tugs-of-war and even piggy-back battles (kiba-sen)! The day usually kicks-off before 9am by playing the Kimigayo (national anthem) while the teams take part in a parade.

Afterwards, everyone contributes in the rajio taiso (warm-up exercises) until the competitions begin. And for those wanting more than winner’s glory, winning teams are also rewarded with prizes – although these are usually practical household goods, not gold medals!

What Does It Mean to Be “Healthy”?

Perhaps one of the best descriptions comes from The World Health Organization (WHO), who haven’t altered their definition of health since 1948:

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

How Healthy is Japan?

According to a recent study, due to balanced diets and active lifestyles, The Land of the Rising Sun is the seventh healthiest country in the world. However, this ranking is based upon quantitative factors such as life expectancy and mortality risks, not more subjective factors such as happiness or mental health. Although, even when it comes to happiness, Japan comes in the top third of countries, albeit in 51st place. So, can we use sports to stay healthy? If so, how?

How Sports Contribute to Health

In addition to the more obvious physical benefits, sport helps us to relieve stress, boost our mood and can even provide us with a sense of “flow” – believed by some psychologists to be one of the greatest contributors to happiness. Although, we probably can’t cater to our every health need with sports they are probably a good place to start!

How to Commemorate Sports and Health Day

  1. Take care of yourself. As the WHO describe through their definition of health, mental and social well-being are fundamental aspects too. Why not go for a walk to reflect upon all areas of your health? Identify which areas of your health you may be neglecting and how you can start to make them a priority.
  2. Spend your day at an undoukai. It’s a good chance to practice your Japanese!
  3. Host your own undoukai. If there aren’t any community undoukai available to you, invite your friends together to host your own. Most events can probably be done using things from around the house!
  4. Get active. Head to your local park for a run, meet your friends for a bike ride or attend an exercise class.
  5. Just relax. If all of the ideas above are unrealistic, just do something that makes you feel good!