Everyone wins in ancient ball game at Kyoto’s Shimogamojinja; Jiro Omura; The Asahi Shimbun

Japan – Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities)

KYOTO–The “kemari” ball game, played by nobility in the Heian Period (794-1185), bounced back to life at a court within Shimogamojinja shrine here on Jan. 4.

The annual Kemari Hajime, the first game of the year, featured graceful passes and skilled footwork at the UNESCO World Heritage site in the city’s Sakyo Ward.

Spectators cheered the players, who were wearing traditional “eboshi” hats and wide “hakama” skirts and shouting “ari” and “ya” as they kicked the white, deerskin ball back and forth.

The players are members of Shukiku Hozonkai, an association that preserves the sport.

The objective of the noncompetitive game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground. One rule adopted for the game at Shimogamojinja shrine was that only the right leg could be used.

Three games were played on Jan. 4, featuring eight players each.

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