Japan, a nation known for its rich cultural tapestry and technological advancements, has a sports culture that often piques global curiosity. Over the years, this passion has evolved, giving birth to new favorites and fandoms. 2023 has been no exception. The sporting preferences of Japan have shifted, as shown by the number of viewers tuning in and the skyrocketing amounts being wagered on bets. To give you a snapshot:
- Japan’s thrilling victory in March this year had over 5.2 million people tuned in to watch the USA lose to Japan in the World Baseball Classic.
- Revenue in the online sports betting market is projected to reach US $3.58 billion in Japan this year.
This unique dynamic has given rise to a diverse landscape of betting options, from traditional games like Pachinko to the excitement of sports betting. But which sports have captivated the Japanese audience to this extent?
1. Baseball: Japan’s Heartbeat
Baseball, adored by 45.2% of Japan’s populace, stands as the nation’s premier sport both for participants and viewers. The game marked its debut in Japan in 1872 and has since flourished immensely. While soccer finds love among Japanese bettors, baseball is the nation’s soul.
- Estimated Fans: 50 million+
- Notable Teams: Yomiuri Giants, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks
- Notable Players: Shohei Ohtani (though he plays in MLB, he’s a significant figure in Japan), Yuki Yanagita, Tomoyuki Sugano
- Popular Markets to Bet On: All good bookmakers for a Japanese audience will offer odds on baseball matches. Common markets include match winners, total runs, player performance (hits, home runs, strikeouts)
2. Sumo Wrestling
Sumo, Japan’s beloved sport, holds a special place in the hearts of 27.3% of the country’s population. With its origins rooted in an ancient Shinto ritual, where a man wrestled with a deity, Sumo’s influence steadily grew by the late 17th century. The Tomioka Hachiman-gu Shrine in Tokyo played a significant role in this growth.
Each year, Japan hosts six grand sumo events across various cities: three in Tokyo and one each in Aichi, Osaka, and Fukuoka. These events span over a period of 15 days. The esteemed title of “Yokozuna” is reserved for the highest-ranking sumo champions.
- Estimated Fans: 15 million+
- Notable Wrestlers: Hakuho, Kakuryu, Terunofuji
- Popular Markets to Bet On: Bout winners, tournament winners, number of wins in a tournament
Soccer betting and viewershipin Japan have skyrocketed. The unveiling of major match schedules sees punters rushing to place their bets, especially on the revered J.League. Apart from the sport’s widespread appeal, the sheer variety of betting options—from team victories to individual scores—makes it a punter’s paradise and something to keep an eye on.
- Estimated Fans: 30 million+
- Notable Teams: Kashima Antlers, Urawa Red Diamonds, Kawasaki Frontale
- Notable Players: Takefusa Kubo, Takumi Minamino, Daichi Kamada
- Popular Markets to Bet On: Match winners, goals scored, player assists, and bookings
4. Pachinko and Mahjong
Pachinko stands out as Japan’s iconic betting game, captivating players with its mesmerizing spinning balls. Mahjong, often dubbed “Maajan,” mirrors the role of poker in the West. Though not officially sanctioned for gambling, it’s common for players to wager on the game’s outcome. There are about 7.6 million Mahjong players in Japan, while the Pachinko industry was worth 14.6 trillion Japanese yen in 2021.
5. Horse Racing: More Than Just Elite Entertainment
Contrary to the elitist association of horse racing in other nations, Japan embraces it as a betting-centric sport. Tokyo’s premier racecourse, stretching over 2.4 km, witnesses hordes of enthusiasts during events. The Japan Cup is the most prestigious event held here, run in November each year and with a prize purse totalling around ¥476 million.
- Estimated Fans: 2.1 million attended races in 2022
- Notable Jockeys and Horses: Yuga Kawada is regarded as the best jockey in Japan, while Deep Impact is considered the greatest racehorse from Japan, with total winnings of ¥1,454,551,000 in his career.
- Popular Markets to Bet On: Race winner, each way (to win or place), forecast (choosing two horses to place first and second)