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Japan’s Data + Sports

Sports Participation Among Secondary Students in Japan

Nearly 75% of Middle School Boys Join School Sports Clubs
Oct. 28, 2022

National surveys conducted by the SSF over the past three decades provide important data on sports participation among secondary students in Japan, enabling the formulation of more effective policies to help young people enjoy sports in their daily lives.

Launch of the National Sports-Life Survey in 1992

Recognizing the need for more detailed data in order to create an inclusive society in which all citizens can enjoy sports in their daily lives, the Sasakawa Sports Foundation developed the National Sports-Life Survey  in 1992. In the second survey, conducted in 1994, questions were added to include not just items about exercise and sports participation but also other aspects of the “participate, spectate, volunteer” dimensions of sports, such as sports spectating and sports volunteering. The National Sports-Life Survey of Young People aged 10 to 19 was launched in 2001, and the National Sports-Life Survey of Children aged 4 to 9 in 2009. These two surveys were merged in 2017, with the target age groups being changed to 4 to 11 and 12 to 21. The findings of these surveys are compiled into reports for publication each year.

Sports not only help to maintain and promote physical and mental health but also have the power to promote personal growth and social development. The sources of such power are analyzed through scientific research and presented in the reports as data in an objective and easy-to-understand format. The information is utilized to develop a variety of programs to enable as many people as possible to lead more enjoyable lives through sports and to help resolve societal issues.


Young People Engaged in School-Centered Sports

This article describes the sports environment surrounding young people living in Japan. The current Japanese educational system consists of six years of elementary school, three years of middle school, three years of high school, and four years of college, with elementary and middle school education being compulsory.

Figure 1. Membership in a School or Community Sports Club Among Those Aged 12 to 21 (by gender and school level, multiple response)


Boys Girls
Type of Club Middle school
High school
Middle school
High school
School sports club 74.0 53.8 11.8 0.0 49.8 33.5 9.1 0.0
School sports circle 0.4 3.4 11.2 0.0 0.8 1.6 10.5 0.0
Private sports club*1 5.2 2.7 2.7 2.7 8.3 2.4 1.9 1.2
Regional sports team/club*2 12.0 1.9 2.7 4.5 8.3 2.8 2.9 4.9
Other 2.0 0.4 0.5 5.4 0.4 0.4 0.5 0.0
Not a member 15.6 39.8 72.2 87.5 42.3 61.4 76.1 93.9

*1 Swimming, gymnastics, etc.
*2 Junior sports clubs, regional sports classes, etc.

Source: Sasakawa Sports Foundation, “National Sports-Life Survey of Ages 12 to 21,” 2021.

How are school-aged young people in Japan engaging in sports? At the middle school level, 74.0% of boys and 49.8% of girls belong to a sports club at their school, with the shares for high schoolers being 53.8% and 33.5%, respectively (Figure 1). These percentages are very high, considering that significant shares of students choose not to join any school club or circle. One can conclude, then, that sports activities among school-aged young people are centered on the school. The activities of these clubs are considered extracurricular, usually taking place after classes and on weekends, and are a leading means by which students engage in sports.

This, though, points to the fact that students have few options to participate in sports outside of school, notes SSF Senior Policy Officer Rie Takenaga.

“As Japan was preparing to host the 1964 Olympic Games, junior sports clubs modeled after the German comprehensive community sports clubs were established around the country to provide young people with community-based opportunities for sports engagement as part of efforts to promote the ideals of the Olympic movement among Japanese youths,” Takenaga says. “The stated aim of these clubs is to provide an environment where kids from their preschool years to high teens can continuously engage in sports. The reality, though, is that most leave these clubs when they graduate from elementary school. Some of them join their school sports clubs after entering middle school, while others wind up quitting sports when moving on to a new stage of life. This age-based discontinuity hinders the smooth development of sports skills among schoolchildren. Given the lack of sports facilities outside the school environment in Japan today, steps need to be taken to create a system whereby such school facilities can be used not only by school clubs but also by many local sports enthusiasts and members of the community.”


Long Club Activity Hours

How often are club activities conducted at Japanese schools? Five days a week was the most popular response among middle schools at 43.1%, while the top share of high schools, at 41.2%, cited six days a week (Figures 2 and 3). An average of two to three hours per day was the most frequent response for the length of activities on weekdays for both middle schools (67.1%) and high schools (63.9%) (Figures 4 and 5). Club activities are also often held on weekends, with 79.3% of middle schools and 52.4% of high schools saying their clubs meet regularly either on Saturday or Sunday (Figure 6).

The hours appear to be growing shorter in recent years, however, says SSF Policy Officer Takahiro Suzuki.

“In 2018, the Japan Sports Agency established comprehensive guidelines for school sports club activities in an effort to optimize students’ sports environment, such as by alleviating long hours and creating a better sports-study balance,” Suzuki states. “They set numerical limits, calling for a maximum of two hours on weekdays and three hours on weekends, in addition to taking at least one day off during the week and either Saturday or Sunday off on weekends. The effect of this can be seen in our survey results. Compared to pre-guidelines figures from 2017, there has been a decline in the number of days and hours spent on sports club activities. Another change has been the recent shift in the focus of these activities, with the emphasis no longer being just on winning competitions but also on enjoying physical activity. According to our 2019 National Sports-Life Survey of Children and Young People, the highest share of students, at 47.5%, cited enjoying physical activity when asked about their ideal club activity, indicating that attitudes among students are also evolving.”

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