We use cookies to optimize and continuously improve our website for individual users. By closing this banner or continuing to view the website, you are agreeing to the use of cookies for this purpose, as detailed in our Privacy Policy.

Accept cookies
Japan’s Data + Sports

What Is the National Sports-Life Survey?

Overview and Features
Nov. 30, 2022

Since its founding in 1992, the Sasakawa Sports Foundation has been conducting the National Sports-Life Survey to gain an understanding of the levels of participation in sports and physical activity in Japan. The following is an overview of this survey and its main features.

The National Sports-Life Survey at 25

The first National Sports-Life Survey was conducted in 1992 and targeted adults aged 20 and over. At the time, the only nationwide survey on the topic, conducted by the government, merely asked participants if they had been engaged in sports or physical activity at least once in the last year. So even those who exercised just once were classified as participants, and this was used in calculating Japan’s overall sports participation rate. Participation in these activities had been steadily increasing against the backdrop of a bubble economy, a declining birthrate and aging population, and greater health awareness, but there was no way of fully grasping the extent to which sports had become an integral part of people’s lives, as data was unavailable on the type of physical activity in which people were engaged on a weekly basis. We discussed the need for more detailed data in advancing measures to build a more inclusive society where everyone can enjoy sports on a daily basis, and it was out of this recognition that the National Sports-Life Survey was born.

We published the results of our inaugural 1992 survey the following year. We analyzed the data on participation in sports and physical activity in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity and found that only 6.6% of the national population engaged in these activities at a level sufficient to maintain and improve health. For our second survey, conducted in 1994, we added questions regarding sports spectatorship and volunteering, in addition to participation. This survey has since been conducted every other year for the past quarter century.

In 2001, we launched a separate National Sports-Life Survey of Young People (aged 10 to 19) to focus on ages not covered in our adult surveys. This survey revealed a polarization among young people in whether or not they participated in physical activity. And in 2009, we began conducting surveys of children aged 4 to 9, which revealed that such polarization were already present among children as young as 8.

How We Conduct Our Surveys

National Sports-Life Surveys are currently conducted annually, with adults (aged 18 and over) being targeted in even-numbered years and children and young people (aged 4 to 11, and 12 to 21) in odd-numbered years. These national surveys are aimed at accurately ascertaining sports participation opportunities at all stages of life, from childhood and adolescence to young adulthood and old age. Our sample size for the survey of adults is set at 3,000 people so that the data can withstand cross-tabulation by age group. Additionally, we use quota sampling as our extraction method to ensure the national population set of young adults to the elderly is reflected without bias. We conduct this survey in 300 locations throughout Japan—86 in large cities, 121 in medium-sized cities (with a population over 100,000), 66 in smaller cities (with a population less than 100,000), and 27 in towns and villages.

Sample extraction begins by classifying municipalities into 11 regional districts per prefecture. Next, we sort the municipalities within each district into one of the four groups outlined above and proportionally choose 300 locations according to the 18-and-older population in each group. We set a sample size of 10 people for each location for a total of 3,000 people that approximate the age-specific population composition in each group.

The National Sports-Life Survey of Children and Young People targets two main population groups—namely, children in preschool and elementary school (4 to 11 years old) and students in middle school, high school, and university (12 to 21 years old)—enabling us to analyze information by education level. The sample size for 4- to 11-year-olds is 2,400 people, while the 12-to-21-year-old sample size is 3,000 people. The sample extraction method is different from our adult survey in that it uses two-stage stratified random sampling drawn from Japan’s Basic Resident Registration system. There are 225 nationwide survey points for both age groups.

What Can We Learn from the Data?

The National Sports-Life Survey is characterized by its questionnaire format and continuity. One question from the survey is, “Have you participated in sports or physical activity over the past year?” which appears on the adult survey, the 4-to-11-year-old survey, and the 12-to-21-year-old survey. This same question has been asked over the years so that trends can be accurately traced over time. Respondents who answer yes to this question are then asked about their participation in sports and physical activities during the past year in descending order of frequency, describing the following for up to five activities: A. type of sport / physical activity; B. frequency (times per year/month/week); C. duration (minutes); and D. intensity (five levels ranging from very easy to very hard). This information enables us to gain both a quantitative and qualitative understanding of respondents’ regular engagement in sports and physical activities.

Analysis Using Data for Item A
Trends in people engaged in physical activity (jogging/running) at least once a week
Survey year 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016
Overall Participation rate (%) 3.7 3.4 2.1 3.3 2.9 3.4 4.2 5.5 5.3 4.5
Estimated participants (in 10,000s) 362 338 211 336 298 352 436 572 550 467
Male Participation rate (%) 4.4 5.6 3.2 5.2 3.9 4.9 6.5 8.3 7.4 6.3
Estimated participants (in 10,000s) 209 270 156 256 194 245 326 417 371 316
Female Participation rate (%) 3 1.2 1.1 1.4 2 2 2 2.7 3.2 2.7
Estimated participants (in 10,000s) 151 61 57 73 106 107 107 145 172 145

Note: The estimated number of participants was calculated by multiplying the total number of adults in Japan’s Basic Resident Registration system by the participation rate.

Source: Sasakawa Sports Foundation, “National Sports-Life Survey in Japan,” 1998–2018.

Figure 1 is a sample of how data from the question about participation in sports and physical activities can be analyzed. For example, responses to items A and B can be used to calculate the weekly frequency for up to five activities, giving us the respective percentages of people who engage in physical activity “at least once a week” and “twice or more a week.” We can then plot the findings alongside the results of past surveys to see annual changes in the rate of sports and physical activity participation over the past 25 years. The sample shows that the percentage of adults who participate at least once a week rose steadily from 23.7% in 1992 to 59.1% in 2012. From 2012 to 2016 there was a slight downturn, suggesting that the rate has plateaued.

The responses to items A, B, C, and D are used to gauge the frequency, duration, and intensity of activity to ascertain what we at the SSF call “level of participation” in sports and physical activities. Comparing the results of the 1992 and 2016 surveys, there is a significant decrease in Level 0 (no sports or physical activity over the past year), along with an increase in the share of Level 3 (at least twice a week, at least 30 minutes in duration) and Level 4 (at least twice a week, at least 30 minutes in duration, at least moderately hard) participation. After a quarter of a century, one can conclude that sports and physical activity have become a bigger part of our daily lives.

The results from item A can be further analyzed to generate estimates of the total number of people engaged in a specific activity, such as jogging and running. Multiplying the participation rate by Japan’s national population for that year will yield an estimate of how many people regularly participate in that activity. Our 2016 survey, for instance, shows that 4.5% of adults jog or run at least once a week, so we can surmise that there were an estimated 4.67 million people in Japan engaged in that activity. The participation rate can be similarly used to calculate the total number of participants for other activities as well.

We hope data from the National Sports-Life Survey will be put to a variety of uses in academia, government, media, marketing, and many other fields. We will continue to identify, analyze, and disseminate information regarding physical activity in Japan in an effort to stimulate debate on sports and to build a society where everyone can enjoy sports on a daily basis.

Application for information use

Upon request, we will provide raw data (including cross-tabulation results, text in Japanese only) from every National Sports-Life Survey taken to date. Interested parties should contact the SSF through the link below.


Page TOP