Ancient Ball Games: The Far East

Tsu Chu (China)

Tsu Chu (also spelled as Tsu’Chu or Tsu-Chu) emerged in ancient China as early as 2500 BC. Tsu means “to kick” and Chu may be translated as “a stuffed ball made of leather”.
The aim in Tsu Chu is to kick the ball through an opening into a small net. The net is fixed onto erected bamboo canes. Considering that the opening was about 30 to 40 cm (1 foot) in diameter and remained fixed at about 9 meters (30 feet) above ground, it is presumable that a high level of skill was needed to play.
The game was traditionally played in celebration of the emperor’s birthday. Records claim that during the Ts’in Dynasty (255 BC – 206 BC) a form of Tsu Chu was used for exercise by soldiers. At the time of the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) Tsu Chu was played extensively. A war manual from the period mentions Tsu Chu and explains that the game was played using a leather ball filled with feathers and hair.



Kemari (Japan)

Between 300 AD – 600 AD, the Japanese developed a game called Kemari or sometimes called Kenatt. It was played with a deerskin-covered ball about 9-10 inches in diameter and stuffed with sawdust. Eight or less players had to keep the ball from touching the floor by juggling it with their feet and passing it from one another. The playing field used for Kemari was called Kikutsubo. Traditionally, the Kikutsubo is rectangular-shaped with a sapling planted in each corner. The “classic” version supposedly featured four distinct trees: cherry, maple, willow and pine.
The period between the 10th and 16th century was the golden age of Kemari. The game spread to the lower classes and was mentioned in┬áJapanese poetry and writing. One anecdote tells of an emperor who along with his team, kept the ball up for over 1000 kicks. Eyewitnesses claim that the ball “seemed suspended, hanging in the sky”. Afterwards, the ball was retired and given a high court rank by the emperor himself.
Around the 13th or 14th century a specific Kemari outfit was introduced, a vivid long-sleeved uniform based on the hitatare. The game of Kemari is still played today in Japan by enthusiasts who want to preserve the tradition.

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Updated: June 23, 2016
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