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Tomorrow on New Year’s Eve, when most students will be at home and most likely watching terrestrial TV’s NY programmes with the family, one programme being aired on NHK’s Educational channel is the 2014 Nawatobi Jump Rope championship (see preview photos of winning teams above).

Elementary school students in their gym clothes at unicycling. Photo courtesy: Bellmark.co.jp

Elementary school students in their gym clothes at unicycling. Photo courtesy: Bellmark.co.jp

Traditional Sports or games that don’t require costly equipment or designated arenas, have become popular in Japan in recent decades. Jump rope and unicycling have become popular sport for masses at large, with Japanese tournament participants shining at many national and even international tournaments. Watch videos at Jump Rope Performance Nawatobikosuke’s videos here

Jump rope is part of the school P.E. (Physical Education) or gym curriculum here, it is seen as building coordination, strength and stamina for children, and is especially popular among middle and high schoolers whose schools send teams to participate in national tournaments, with some schools winning big in many of the earlier tournaments. You can watch the Japan team at the 2006 World Jump Rope tournament video.

Growth of the jump rope sport is linked to initiatives by Bandai, toy giant which has held jump-rope classes all over Japan and been sponsoring competitions aimed at elementary school students. Bandai workshops teach various techniques and tricks, Bandai has sponsored  jump-rope tournaments with regional qualifying tournaments were held at multiple locations across Japan, followed by a national championship at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, an arena used for sumo.  Bandai sales of J Rope have been a huge hit, with elementary students each buying at least a few during their studentlife. Sporting goods makers Asics and Mizuno have also put their energy into manufacturing and selling competition-level jump ropes, lending momentum to the spread of rope skipping as a legitimate sport.

The number of people attempting competitive jump rope or skipping continues to grow, and the level of competition continues to rise. Japan frequently boasts number one athlete ranking in the world by the International Nawatobi (jump rope) Federation. Jump rope is seen as building strength and stamina for children, especially popular among middle and high schoolers. If you think jump rope is only for young children, think again. It has diversified to jump rope dancing, watch this incredible Double Dutch Delight video. Its spreading popularity can be seen by the growing number of women enjoying the activity in sports clubs as well. Find out more about Jump rope in Japan.

Any first time in Japan parent with children in local schools will agree that the wow factor of School Sports Day events like unicycling, jump rope and human pyramids (featured earlier this year) is very high.

Unicycling (Japanese: 一輪車 いちりんしゃ, ichirinsha) is taught in most elementary schools in Japan as a very small unit of the Physical Education (P.E.) subject(non-compulsory), to both boys and girls. In 1981, the Japan unicycling association started to donate unicycles to schools. In 1989, monbu-sho(the then-Ministry of Education) added unicycling as a subject in 3rd and 4th grades of elementary schools. However, in reality, many boys and girls would have become pretty good at unicycling and takeuma (bamboo-horse pogo-stick)respectively during preschool. Unicycle concerts often become special trademarks of certain preschools or elementary schools and a prospective draw for parents seeking to enrol their children, especially preschoolers.

However, it is said that the real reason why unicycling became popular was this: In 1992 a middle-schooler named Akira Matsushima rode his unicycle from Oregon to Washington D.C. (3261 miles) over his summer vacation. After that, unicycling became a huge trend in Japan.

There is an anime short movie Ichirin sha featuring a character called Shaleen who rides a unicycle that can transform into a weapon.

Part of the bellmark project where proceeds gained from the collections of designated eco-recycling items by the school PTA groups usually go toward buying unicycles and takeumas for the kindergarden/school. The unicycles (takeuma) are placed in an accessible location so that kids can get them on the way out to the playground during schoolbreaks. The aim is for children to gain good coordination and balance. You can read about the unicycling events in this lovely writeup introducing the unicycle “Japan loves unicycles”

And if you are up at 9 am tomorrow morning, be sure to tune in to the NHK-E channel to watch the 2014 Nawatobi National Championships. Here’s wishing all our EIJ Blog readers a very Happy New Year!

Nawatobi 2014 Jump Rope Championships

Nawatobi 2014 Jump Rope Championships