The top martial arts in Japan

Martial arts are popular around the globe. However, when speaking of Martial Arts, Japan is one of the most famous countries in the world. In the past few decades Japan has produced many bright stars in various martial arts. Many of these athletes have held world championships in their respective disciplines. With such a rich history its easy to see the continuing popularity. What are the most popular forms of martial arts in Japan Today?

Pro Wrestling

Few countries have a more esteemed professional wrestling industry than Japan. WWE wrestling in Japan is extremely popular and has been for a long time. In more recent memory, ‘The Beast in the East’ (2015) tournament was one of the most successful WWE events of all time. Brock Lesnar took on Kofi Kingston as the headline. However, the biggest attraction was Finn Balor’s return to Japan to win the NXT Championship.

Balor was a massive star in Japan throughout his run in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW). The most popular league for pro wrestling in Japan, the NJPW enjoyed a renaissance in 2007. A growing number of stars wrestle in the NJPW including AJ Styles, Chris Jericho, and Kenny Omega. These international names have led to a growing number of fans from around the world. One of the biggest differences between NJPW and the WWE is the wrestling style. The NJPW places more emphasis on the perseverance of the stars in the ring. This is in contrast to out of ring theatrics that are synonymous with WWE.


There isn’t a more popular league for mixed martial arts (MMA) in the world today than the UFC. The UFC has a very large fan base in Japan. Many Japanese fans have followed the UFC since its early days. Much of this fan base is attributed to the success of Japanese Kazushi Sakuraba. The UFC remains prominent with Japanese fans today. Fans from around the country tune in to the events weekly.

Sakuraba was one of the true trailblazers for MMA. His career began when he competed in the first event in Japan in 1997. The match against Marcus Silveira was stopped for technical reasons. The two did clash again later on in the same night. Sakuraba won by submission in the first round.

Takanori Gomi is one of the more recent Japanese UFC stars. He competed in the UFC between 2010 and 2017. Gomi’s most important victories came against Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Mac Danzig.


One of the most popular forms of martial arts in Japan is undeniably karate. This form of martial art originated in Japan, and has been practiced since 1879. Karate was taught throughout the early 1910s, but popularity exploded in the mid 1920’s. In around 1924, universities began organize karate clubs. By 1932, the majority of the universities in Japan had karate clubs. During the Second World War the western world was exposed to the discipline. US armed forces began practicing karate during the immediate aftermath of the war.

It wasn’t until the 1960s and 1970s that the popularity of karate reached new heights. It was during this period the discipline was featured in many movies. The Karate Kid was particularly notable. The film had a profound impact on the number of new fans drawn into the sport. 2021 has been a great year for the discipline. Karate was part of the Olympic calendar for the very first time during the Tokyo games.


Boxing has long been one of the most popular sports around the world. As a form of exercise it is incredibly popular. For others it is a way of life and a career. Throughout history Japan has produced some impressive boxers. Fighting Harada, Koki Kameda, and Katsunari Takayama are just a few names that come to mind.

The biggest star Japan has produced is Naoya Inoue. To this day  he is a superstar of the sport. Inoue has been popular since winning bronze in the light flyweight class at the Asian Youth Championships. Since turning professional, his career has gone from strength to strength. He is a three-division world champion, and is currently the unified bantamweight champion of the world. In December he will defend his WBA (Super), The Ring, and IBF championships against Aran Dipaen. The match is expected to draw record crowds in Tokyo.

With such a rich history, the popularity of martial arts in Japan is obvious. The tradition looks to continue as the popularity of new and exciting disciplines gain popularity. The future of martial arts in Japan is not in doubt.

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