Do you know Canada's most popular sport? 氷球!

Good morning everyone,

Is it just me or does it feel like we're having rainy season for the second time this year? They're calling for the rainy, cloudy weather to continue through the rest of the week and into the weekend. There's still no sun in sight, but hopefully soon...otherwise I'm moving somewhere sunnier! And the good news is that it should be a bit less hot and humid, so that's nice...but I'd really like to see the sun for a couple of days in a row...

Nowadays, Japan is pretty accepting of foreign loanwords. For the vast majority of concepts or items that originated overseas, Japanese society is perfectly happy to just pronounce it as best as Japanese pronunciation will allow and write it using katakana, the type of script used for foreign words.

This is especially true for modern sports that were introduced to the country through contact with other nations. In Japan today, tennis is tenisu and soccer is sakkaa. Sure, the pronunciations get a little corrupted, but they’re pretty understandable even to English-speakers without any Japanese-language proficiency.

A high-profile exception, though, is baseball, which in Japan is called yakyuu, literally “field ball” and written with kanji (generally reserved for concepts originating in Japan or China) as 野球. But it turns out that Japan actually created its own words for all sorts of Western sports, some of which are far more colorful than their English counterparts. See how many you can guess from their kanji and literal translations, before scrolling down to the answers.

1. 籠球
Pronounced: roukyuu
Meaning: “basket ball”
In English:
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basketball, obviously. Sure, the kanji is a little tricky, but the meaning is exactly the same (incidentally there’s also a basketball anime called Ro-Kyu-Bu!).

2. 蹴球
Pronounced: shuukyuu
Meaning: “kick ball”
In English:
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soccer. Actually, we have a sport called 'kickball', which is a mixture of baseball and soccer. It's only really played by kids during recess.

3. 氷球
Pronounced: kyoukyuu
Meaning: “ice ball”
In English:
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ice hockey, despite the fact that the sport uses a puck, not a ball. But that does explain why Japanese people always call the puck a ball when we are talking about hockey.

4. 鎧球
Pronounced: gaikyuu
Meaning: “armor ball”
In English:
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football, since it has the most noticeable and iconic protective gear out of the major sports.

5. 闘球
Pronounced: toukyuu
Meaning: “fighting ball”
In English:
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rugby, because no other sport so resembles a running brawl.

6. 庭球
Pronounced: teikyuu
Meaning: “garden ball”
In English:
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tennis, because it used to be a game only for those rich and cultured enough to have a garden to play the sport in.

7. 羽球
Pronounced: ukyuu
Meaning: “feather ball”
In English:
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badminton. Honestly, it’s hard to think of any other way to describe a shuttlecock than as a ball with feathers attached to it.

8. 避球
Pronounced: hikyuu
Meaning: “avoid ball”
In English:
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dodgeball, which in Japan is a team sport played on a square, hardwood court roughly the size of the one used for basketball.

9. 排球
Pronounced: haikyuu
Meaning: “reject ball”
In English:
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volleyball (this is another one that’s a little easier to guess if you’re an anime fan). The theory is that the name comes from a team’s goal being to “reject” the ball by knocking it back to the opponent’s side of the net (in English, we say 'block' not reject).

10. 杖球
Pronounced: joukyuu
Meaning: “cane ball”
In English:
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field hockey, in fact, and not croquet, gateball, or any other geriatric-friendly sport, for people who need canes.

11. 十柱戯
Pronounced: jucchuugo
Meaning: “ten pillar pleasantry”
In English:
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bowling. It’s not clear why it was given a name that shuns recognition of the bowling ball, but still, it’s hard to hate a name this cute.

12. 孔球
Pronounced: koukyuu
Meaning: “hole ball”
In English:
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golf, which, in Japan, should be called “taking a break half-way through a long walk to eat lunch and drink a couple cold ones ball.”

Now, while yakyuu remains by far the most common way to refer to baseball in Japanese, all the rest of these names have fallen so out of modern use as to be largely unintelligible, even to many native Japanese speakers. Which means that you may annoy some of your Japanese friends. On the other hand, if you want to show off your knowledge of old Japanese to your sports buddies, these will do the trick quite nicely.

Have a great day!


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