The Appeal of Club Culture: Why Do People Get Together?

Masaaki Mori
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Physical education

When the J. League was founded, the establishment of community-based sports clubs became the focus of much attention in Japan.

Modern soccer spread from Britain throughout the world after an association (the Football Association) was established there in 1863. Modern soccer also has its roots in football games played during traditional festivals in various parts of Britain. Sometimes called folk football, these games are still carried out in a dozen or so locations.

Case 1

One representative example of folk football is Shrovetide football from Ashbourne, a town located in central England. The Shrovetide football match is a ritual-like event that is held on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday (special religious holidays). (During the festival, the Up’Ards team from the area above the river intersecting the town competes with the Down’Ards team from the area below the river for the control of a ball. On the second day in 1928, the ball was turned up (thrown into play) by the then Prince of Wales, starting the festival.) For the people of Ashbourne, it is a celebration more important than Christmas. Even during World War I, when soldiers from the town could not participate in the Ashbourne games, a ball was sent to France where many of them had been dispatched, and they took a break from fighting to play Shrovetide football.

Case 2

Similar behavior can be seen in the prison-camp life of German POWs held in Japan after World War I. Such was the case at the Bando POW Camp (hereafter, Bando) in Naruto. This is where Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was performed for the first time in Japan. (The event was portrayed in the 2006 film The Ode to Joy [Baruto no Gakuen].) There were German POW camps at several locations throughout Japan, but a certain freedom of living was secured for the prisoners at Bando, where autonomous activities were emphasized.

In addition to organizing and enjoying theatrical and musical groups, the German prisoners also engaged in tennis, soccer, wrestling and boxing, and had bowling alleys and a billiard hall. One type of activity they were particularly enthusiastic about was artistic gymnastics, called Turnen in German. Their gymnastic competitions were also popular with the Japanese locals and resulted in international exchange between the two groups, with local people coming to the prisoner camp to receive training in gymnastics, and German soldiers leaving the camp to coach the Japanese.

The History of Club Culture and Club Life

Most modern-day sports are said to have originated in Britain. In the nation where the sports became competitive-oriented, amateurism—the idea that people who earned money from physical labor should be excluded from sports competitions—was emphasized, and many working-class athletes were prevented from participating in these competitions. (Making money by participating in sports competitions was also forbidden.)1

This way of thinking spread to other countries that participated in the Olympics, but workers’ sports (also called popular sports) tournaments had always been big in Germany, and national tournaments were held there from 1860 onward. Tournaments for Turnen (gymnastics), the sport that gained popularity at Bando too, are still held today in Germany. The participants in these tournaments range from small children to elderly people in their seventies and eighties, and regional national tournaments are conducted according to the (local) rules designed for each age group.2

It is said that a club must have multiple sports, multiple age groups and multiple teams for it to be considered a sports club. For example, Local Sports Club A has multiple teams for different sports like gymnastics and soccer, and these teams are organized by age. Club members in their forties can join gymnastics or soccer teams for people in their forties and enjoy these sports. Such activities are what club life is all about.

In the 1970s, a law called the Club Law was instituted in Germany to promote the establishment of clubs. If a club has seven or more members, draws up by-laws, collects membership fees, sets up a board of directors and is then registered as a corporation, it is officially recognized as a club, and the revenue it receives from the programs and attractions it operates is generally tax-exempt. This “golden plan” designed to promote club life is well known in Japan.

Establishment of the J. League and implementation of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s policies on comprehensive community sports clubs were patterned after this German model of club development.

Why Do People Get Together?

Consider the townspeople of Ashbourne who played Shrovetide football in France in the midst of the war, or the German soldiers who were able to enjoy their lives despite their confinement in a POW camp. You could say this is the essence of club life.

Why do people get together? It is because festivals, sports and music have become integral sources of enjoyment in human life.

To put it another way, to form these kinds of friendships and participate in club life is to engage in an activity one can enjoy for a lifetime. In the words of one of my teachers, “Enjoy life to the fullest.” Clubs are spaces where one can do just that.

1) Amateur regulations lacked clear-cut rules about occupation. In Japan, the first- to fifth-place winners of a 1920 marathon race were all disqualified for being rickshaw pullers.

2) These are comprehensive sports tournaments that include other sports besides gymnastics, such as volleyball, swimming, and track and field.


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Masaaki Mori
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Physical education

Professor Mori was born in 1952 in Hakata, Fukuoka prefecture. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the Faculty of Letters, Chuo University in 1976 and went on to complete a post-graduate course in the sociology of physical education from the Graduate School of Physical Education, Juntendo University in 1978. He started working at Chuo University in 1988 and assumed his current position as a professor of sports sociology on the Faculty of Letters in 2002. He is a rugger man who participated in the All-Japan Rugby Sevens Tournament until the age of 30, and has conducted research on the organization of festivals and sports clubs based on his exposure to the sports cultures of Australia and New Zealand. He is currently working on a book (tentatively) entitled Club Culture Develops People, Festival Culture Builds the Future [Kurabu Bunka ga Hito wo Sodateru, Matsuri Bunka wa Mirai wo Tsukuru].





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