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Ronaldo might be an amazing player, but we’d like to see him try playing in the clothes of classical Japanese aristocrats.

When people think of Heian aristocrats, the first thing that comes to mind usually isn’t a sport that looks like a cross between soccer (or football, whichever you prefer) and a game of Hackey Sack played on your college quad. But it turns out that, between writing poems about morning dew and drinking copious amounts of alcohol while marveling at the moon, the classical ruling class sometimes played kemari (蹴鞠 or, literally, “kick ball”), apparently while decked out in their robs and funny little hats.

▼ Funny but awesome!

The game is played quite a bit like you might expect—everyone stands in a circle and works together to keep the ball aloft, using whatever body part necessary excluding the arms and hands. The game was originally introduced from China in the 7th century, becoming particularly popular among the Heian aristocrats in later centuries. Sei Shonagon even commented on it, saying that the game wasn’t dignified but that it was interesting.

▼ She had a gift for understatement…

Of course, like many traditions, kemari isn’t quite as popular as it once was, but it hasn’t been forgotten! For example, the game has been played since the Meiji period by members of the Kyushiku Hozon-kai, a society dedicated to preserving kemari. The society was apparently established at the behest of the emperor and is so old they still have a GeoCities page (though it doesn’t look like it’s been updated recently). Former President Bush (the elder) even played kemari during one visit to Japan in the 90s in a suit.

On January 5, Kyushiku Hozon-kai also provided a demonstration at Shimogamo Shrine in Kyoto. The event, which is apparently held at the shrine at the beginning of every year, has attracted quite a bit of attention online this week thanks to a video.

▼ It certainly seems like a great way to kick off the new year, doesn’t it?

The game isn’t competitive—it’s really more about teamwork than anything—but it certainly looks like a lot of fun, doesn’t it? We wouldn’t mind it if someone took this and started a proper kemari gym so everyone could participate. Though we imagine the laundry bill for the robes would be killer…

Sources: Sankei, Asahi ShinbunYouTube/SankeiNews, Wikipedia/蹴鞠
Featured image: YouTube/SankeiNews