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The New Year’s Kemari (Traditional Soccer Game of Japan) at Shimogamo Shrine

On January 4, the New Year’s Kemari (蹴鞠, ancient football game of the Imperial Court of Japan) annually held at Shimogamo Jinja shrine (下鴨神社) was conducted.

Kemari, aka Shukiku (蹴鞠, the same kanji character), is one of the oldest performing art of Japan, that was introduced from China in the Asuka (飛鳥) period. This ancient Chinese football is credited as the origin of Western soccer games. In the premises of the shrine, players dressed in the Heian (平安) noblemen’s attire, chase and kick up the Mari (鞠, ball) made of deer skin. Animated shouts of “Ari!”, “Yeah!”, and “Oh”, echo through the crisp winter sky in Kyoto. It’s so refreshing to see such a sacred ritual which is very unique to Japan.

The players presenting splendid footwork are members of Shukiku Hozonkai (蹴鞠保存会, the Shukiku Preservation Association). Whenever I see this event, it tells me the end of the New Year’s season, and it’s still nice to feel the noble culture of the Imperial Court of the Heian period via the scenery of courtiers chasing Mari of 150 grams weight.

Akane Kibune
kyoto Expert Certification 1st Grade

6 mins. on foot from Shimogamojinja, or Tadasu no Mori, Kyoto city bus

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