The 2018 Undōkai World Cup: Sports Festival Fun on Awaji Island


Autumn in Japan is the season for undōkai, the sports festivals that take place at just about every school in the country. This month the island of Awaji in Hyōgo Prefecture is hosting its third annual Undōkai World Cup, with fun events open to all and delicious prizes to win.

Hyōgo Hosts a New World Cup

The undōkai, or sports festival, is a well-known event to anyone who has spent time in or near a Japanese school. Student bodies split into teams to take part in competitions ranging from straightforward relay races to tug-of-war, ball-tossing, creating human pyramids, and even bread-eating contests. The focus is on athletic competition (the first undōkai took place more than 140 years ago as a means of improving the health of Japanese youth for the sake of the rapidly modernizing country), but just as vital is the concept of teamwork—and, perhaps most importantly, just plain having fun.

Relay racers stretch for the finish line in the 2017 competition.

Fun is the primary focus at the Undōkai World Cup, an annual event held on the island of Awaji in Hyōgo Prefecture. This year’s UWC takes place this weekend, from September 15 to 17. Competition is open to all comers, with some 20 events available for individuals or teams to test their mettle against opponents.

50,000 Fans of Undōkai Events

This is the third straight year for the World Cup. In 2017 it attracted some 50,000 people to Awaji, and similar numbers are expected this year, according to organizers from Pasona Group, the company helping to plan the events along with local governments from the island’s three cities of Awaji, Sumoto, and Minami-Awaji, along with Hyōgo Prefecture. This year’s events take place on the Awaji grounds of the Akashi Kaikyō Government National Park, ensuring wide-open spaces for competitors to show their stuff.

Standard events that will be familiar to undōkai veterans include three-legged races, a team jump-rope competition, a giant ball rolling race, and the team ball-toss, where players scoop up balls from the field and throw them into baskets held high above the ground. Other events that should draw crowds are bubble soccer, a take on the standard game that places players inside bouncy bubbles surrounding most of their bodies, and “bubble royale,” a free-for-all team event using the same inflated gear.

Bubble soccer players take the field.

While some events are free to participants, fees are required for those in the Paid Games Division. But the prizes at stake may make this outlay worthwhile: top finishers in the Undōkai World Cup can take home a year’s supply of beef, rice, or onions produced right there on Awaji.

All Participants Welcome on Awaji

“Luckily the event site wasn't damaged from the typhoon” that struck the Kansai region on September 4, according to an event spokesperson. “A lot of Awaji City had blackouts and were asked to evacuate, but the community is recovering pretty well.” Pasona organizers and the local governments have high hopes that the Undōkai World Cup will be a way to draw attention to the island and boost tourism there, in addition to promoting health and sharing Awaji’s traditional culture with visitors. A full slate of events including fireworks shows, cheerleading performances, games for dog-owners, and an international market showcasing food, crafts, and music from around the globe will keep participants entertained when they aren’t on the fields.

Spectators enjoy a musical performance at the 2017 event.

Event Information

  • Undōkai World Cup 2018
  • Web:
  • When: September 15–17, 2018
  • Where: Awaji Island Akashi Kaikyō National Government Park

(Originally written in English. All photos courtesy the Undōkai World Cup Committee, Pasona Group.)

sports festival Hyōgo Prefecture Awaji