Asia All-Stars: National Sports Around the Continent

6 July 2023

While global behemoths like soccer, basketball, and tennis are loved by millions of spectators and participants around Asia, the continent is home to numerous indigenous sporting traditions. From Bhutan's use of archery as a fulcrum for festivals and celebrations to Japan's sumo to something altogether more unusual in Central Asia, here are some of the most notable.

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While global behemoths like soccer, basketball, and tennis are loved by millions of spectators and participants around Asia, the continent is home to numerous indigenous sporting traditions. From Bhutan's use of archery as a fulcrum for festivals and celebrations to Japan's sumo to something altogether more unusual in Central Asia, here are some of the most notable.



Archery competition, Paro

If you think of archery as a decorous pastime, then you haven't been to Bhutan. In the Himalayan kingdom, the seemingly genteel activity becomes a fulcrum for boisterous social activity. Indeed, the national sport of Bhutan is regarded as a platform for friendly rivalry, socializing, and strengthening community bonds. It is often played during religious festivals, known as "tshechus", and other important occasions. A fascinating aspect of Bhutanese archery is the presence of colorful rituals and celebrations associated with the sport. Each time a competitor hits the target, a group of singers and dancers performs traditional songs and dances to celebrate the achievement. This adds to the festive atmosphere and creates a lively ambiance during competitions. Remote Lands arranges expert-led lessons in archery throughout Bhutan, including at Amankora, Six Senses, and COMO Uma Paro. 


Grand Sumo Tournament, Tokyo

The history of sumo wrestling dates back nearly two millennia to its origins as a Shinto ritual that was performed in the growing season to honor the spirits. The Shinto deities, also called “kami,” were thought to be entertained and pleased by the wrestlers as they met in a purified ring, in turn leading to a bountiful harvest and good fortune. Most wrestlers follow rigid routines in which they exercise on an empty stomach and sleep after eating to help convert the 10,000-some calories they consume per day into mass and strength. There are myriad fascinating traditions that travelers can expect to see. These include the symbolic pre-match purification of the ring with salt, the rinsing of mouths with a ladle of water, and ceremonial foot-stomping. Intrigued? Remote Lands can arrange various interesting sumo experiences from learning the ropes first-hand from retired wrestlers on The Grandest Tour Aman Jet Expedition to observing training in a traditional stable to attending a professional bout at a Grand Sumo Tournament. 


Professional Muay Thai bout, Thailand

Known as the "art of eight limbs" Muay Thai is characterized by the use of fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet.  Muay Thai as we know it today is said to have originated in the middle of the 16th century. Its popularity spread when the Burmese took prisoner thousands of Thai soldiers after the downfall of Thailand’s former capital Ayutthaya. While incarcerated the best Thai boxers had to then fight against Burmese boxing champions. The ultimate champion was a Thai fighter Nai Khanomtom, who was granted his freedom by the Burmese king after shocking one of Burma's best fighters. Over the centuries, the sport has grown in popularity with everyone from upcountry farmers to Thai movie stars and celebs tuning in to Channel 7 – the national Muay Thai channel – to watch bouts beamed out from prestigious venues such as Rajadamnern Stadium in Bangkok.


The National Horse Games Festivals, Kyrgyzstan

One of the most unique sports in Asia is Buzqashi. The game is played across Central Asia, while also being quite popular in Mongolia and Western China. It is most known by Buzqashi, its Afghan name. It's a form of polo, played on horseback, but with a twist: the object the players are trying to score with is a headless goat, usually killed right before the match. The teams consist of 12-a-side, and the referee sets the number of rounds played. As one might expect, the team who puts the body into the net – this is counted as a goal – the most times wins. Scooping up the heavy goat carcass from ground level on horseback is tough — and a serious testament to the strength and agility of the players. In ancient times, the game was played with the body of a wolf rather than a goat, going by the name of Kok-Baru – which translates as ‘blue wolf’. After the game, the players from the winning team take turns posing for photos with the headless goat and usually celebrate by dining on the animal’s body, which was tenderized during the game. We can arrange a private Buzqashi match experience in celebration of Navruz festival in Uzbekistan, as well as in the stunning Song-Kul Lake area of Kyrgyzstan


A spot of cricket in central Mumbai

India is widely known as one of the most spiritual places on earth. But few religious rites sparks passion and conversation like cricket, the country's national sport. Observing cricket in India is a truly exhilarating experience. The sport has a rich history in India and enjoys immense popularity, making it one of the most watched and followed sports nationally, as well as throughout the Commonwealth. Cricket matches in India are known for their electrifying atmosphere, with fans cheering, chanting, and waving flags to support their favorite teams. Atmospheric places to catch a match include the venerable Eden Gardens in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. An unyielding passion for cricket permeates through the whole Subcontinent, including Sri Lanka, where we can arrange for you to watch a match in the capital, Colombo, or Galle, depending on schedules.




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