Graceful "Kemari Hajime"Visitors Enchanted at Shimogamo Shrine4 January 2013 - Sightseeing/Events
The annual New Year ritual "Kemari Hajime," or the first "Mari" ball kicking game of the year, took place on January 4 at Shimogamo Shrine in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto. As snow occasionally whirled through the air, the Kemari players dressed in colorful traditional court costumes kicked the ball gracefully and fascinated visitors.
Kemari was introduced to Japan in the Asuka Period and was popular among noblemen in the Heian Period. Although Kemari declined after the Meiji Restoration, the Kemari preservation group "Shukiku Hozonkai" was established in 1903 to preserve the tradition.
After a Shinto rite, the Kemari performance started around 2:00 p.m. The Kemari court, with green bamboo set on the four corners, was set up in front of the shrine's main sanctuary. Fifteen members of the preservation group, who were attired in Kemari costumes of "Suikan" jackets and "Eboshi" caps, played three Kemari games, kicking the deer-skin ball in groups of eight. As the players kicked the ball high with shouts of "Ari," "Ya" and "Oh," spectators surrounding the "Kemari Hajime" performance applauded loudly.
Toshihiko Oka, a coach for Kobe Football Club who came to watch the event, said, "I came here for the first time to learn the origin of kicking balls. I was impressed with how the players assist each other, unlike a competitive game."(translated by Galileo, Inc.)