Kyoto Shrine hosts ‘kemari’ soccer match for first time in 2 years


Dressed in colorful aristocratic robes and hats, “mariashi” players entertained visitors to Kyoto’s Shimogamo shrine earlier this month with the year’s first game of “kemari,” an ancient football game resembling “keepy -uppy”, the object of the game being to keep the ball in the air.

Sixteen members of the Shukiku Hozonakai, a kemari preservation society established in 1907 at the request of Emperor Meiji, participated in the “Kemari Hajime” festival at the shrine for the first time in two years on January 4. Shimogamo Shrine has a history of hosting kemari performances, with Emperor Go-Toba and others enjoying the pastime.

Members of the Shukiku Hozonakai play kemari at the Shimogamo shrine in Kyoto on January 4, 2022.

It has been performed as an offering to the shrine for more than half a century, but was canceled last year due to the spread of the coronavirus.

Amid light rain, eight players set up the Kemari pitch following the Shinto ritual and began tossing the “mari” buckskin ball into the air.

In order to prevent the spread of infection, spectators were asked to refrain from applauding but they did applaud the beautiful pieces.

The preservation society had to abandon the practice from March 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic and only restarted last month. Tsunehiro Ueda, 75, who runs the society, said: “I was afraid of hurting myself, but I was able to make an offering without incident. It was a good start.

Kyoto’s Shimbun

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