Martial arts clubs have always been a mainstay of Japanese high schools, and two of the more popular ones are judo and kendo. Many children learn judo and kendo at small training centers, or dojos, throughout the city. But did you know that two of the biggest high school martial arts tournaments, the Kinshuki and the Gyokuryuki, are held in Fukuoka every summer?
The former is a judo tournament sponsored by Nishinippon Shimbun and the Kyushu Judo Association, while the latter is a kendo championship sponsored by Nishinippon Shimbun and the Kyushu Kendo Association. Both are held in late July at Marine Messe, with the Gyokuryuki following the Kinshuki. The tournaments are split into boys’ and girls’ divisions, and respectively, they are counted among the top three national tournaments for high school students.
You may find it strange that two tournaments sponsored by a local newspaper company and regional martial arts associations are some of the most important in Japan, but there is a reason for this—the method of participation. To participate in most national tournaments, athletes first have to win in the regional qualifying matches, but there are no qualifiers for the Kinshuki and the Gyokuryuki, so any school that wants to send players can. Every year, several hundred schools send representatives, and more recently, student athletes from overseas have even started participating.
The precursor to the Kinshuki and the Gyokuryuki started in the Taisho era. Initially only participants from within Fukuoka Prefecture could compete, but over the years, the tournament began accepting participating schools from other prefectures. In this way, the twin competitions are the embodiment of Fukuoka’s friendly, open atmosphere. With a large number of participating schools, the tournaments have grown to span several days, and every year, the grueling schedule generates its share of dramatic episodes. In fact, getting to see high school students from all over Japan compete with all their hearts is one of the reasons these tournaments are so exciting.