Kickball the Heian way.

Japanese Twitter user @yoshimura0303 was recently out and about in Kyoto when he stumbled across a kemari game taking place. “Kemari” comes from the Japanese words keru, meaning “kick,” and mari, meaning “ball,” so the direct translation would be “kickball.”

However, this wasn’t the same “kickball” played by energetic kids in America who kick a rubber ball around a baseball field because they don’t have bats and gloves to play with. Kemari is a game that became popular with Japanese aristocrats and members of the imperial court all the way back in the Heian period (794-1185), and the kemari game @yoshimura0303 watched wasn’t being played in any old park, but at the the Kyoto Imperial Palace.

The game was part of a multi-day event organized by the Imperial Household Agency introducing aspects of courtly life from the era when the imperial family still resided in Kyoto. In keeping with that historical context, the participants all dressed in formal attire of the Heian period, wearing traditional sandals, billowy hakama pants, kimono with luxuriously lengthy sleeves, and high-peaked eboshi hats.

Kemari is a cooperative game, most similar to hacky sack, with the goal being to keep the rally going for as long as possible without the ball (which is made from deerskin) hitting the ground. As you can probably guess from kemari’s name, you’re only allowed to kick the ball, not use any other part of your body. As an added piece of difficulty, you can only use your right foot, not your left, and that restriction makes proper positioning particularly important, despite the stately attire of the aristocracy not being the easiest outfit to move around in.

Reactions to @yoshimura0303’s video have included:

“So elegant!”
“It looks really hard.”
“It’s like you went back in time.”
“I wish I could have seen this in-person.”
“Want to try it myself now.”

Unfortunately for that last commenter, it’s been several hundred years since kemari was commonly played in Japan, so finding a neighborhood league isn’t exactly easy to do. On the other hand, as long as you’re not a stickler for period-authentic clothing and ball materials, putting together a game with friends shouldn’t be too hard, especially since the non-competitive nature of kemari means you don’t need a referee. Just be sure you’re not playing somewhere where a bouncing ball is going to bother other people, especially if you’re playing in manners-minded Kyoto.

Source: Twitter/@yoshimura0303 via IT Media
Images: Twitter/@yoshimura0303
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