Kari Grohn's Home Page - Japan - Kemari


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Seidaimyojin Annual Festival 精大明神 例祭,
Shiramine Shrine 白峯神宮, Kyoto

Kemari Hajime 蹴鞠初め (First Kemari of the Year), Shimogamo Shrine 下鴨神社, Kyoto 

Seidaimyojin shrine is the guardian deity of kemari and the Asukai family. In the 12th century the family was a famous instructor and leader of kemari. In those days emperors were patrons of kemari and courtiers were able to rise in rank if they were good at kemari. When a team kept the ball in the air for more than 1,000 kicks the emperor retired the ball from active play and gave it a high-court rank. One of the noblemen was said to have walked on the railings of Kiyomizu temple while kicking a ball.

In kemari there are no winners or losers. The objective is simply to pass the deerskin ball to fellow players. The number of players varies from two to eight. The game becomes a divine act when it is played with the same love, affection, compassion and sympathy as that of the gods towards human beings. In the corners of the playing field aristocrats planted four trees representing the seasons: cherry for spring, willow for summer, maple for autumn, and pine for winter. 

Kemari was first brought to Japan from China via Korea in the 6th century. Among the nobility of the Asuka court the game found favour. During kemari’s golden age between the 10th and 16th centuries the fans ranged from emperors, generals and warriors to religious officials and monks. The poets were so inspired that kemari became their muse. Finally, the popularity was nationwide in the early Edo period when common people played the game on village roads. But the vogue waned in later years. Today teams are hosted by the Kemari Preservation Society and many shrines and temples, as well as universities and other non-religious organizations.

Technically, Seidaimyojin is the god of kemari, but modern-day Japanese take Seidaimyojin to embrace all ball sports. Many people visit the shrine from all over the country to pray for success on their own sports field. The shrine is popular both among professional football-players and children. Pros worship because of their will to win and children aspire to become good players in the future.