Meiji Shrine Games, Tokyo, 1926.
“After the first sports festival (undokai) at the Naval Academy in 1874, ‘sports day’ spread to schools throughout the country and became a mandatory extracurricular activity. Mori Arinori, who became Minister of Education in 1885, was among the enthusiastic promoters of undokai, which he saw as an ideal means of improving health and simultaneously intensifying the patriotism of the nation’s schoolchildren. A leading journal of education, Dai Nihon kyoikukai zasshi, mentioned thirty-two separate undokai held between 1884 and 1892, mainly at the nation’s primary schools.
“… Sportswear [for girls] was a knotty problem. It was difficult to do calisthenics in an obi (the tight sash worn with a kimono) and nearly impossible to run in geta (Japanese clogs). The long sleeves of the traditional Japanese kimono also hindered many sports activities.
“Reform-minded Inokuchi Akuri, who had studied at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, and at Boston’s Normal School of Gymnastics, returned to Japan in 1903 and prescribed blouses, bloomers and skirts for her physical education classes. In 1915, Nikaido Tokuyo experimented with simple tunics she had observed while studying in England. Neither effort at dress reform was successful. [But it] was not until the 1920s that Western sports clothes became standard for female physical education.
“… At schools founded by or under the influence of Protestant missionaries, programs in female physical education were generally more ambitious. At Doshisha Women’s College, for instance, lawn tennis was played as early as 1879.”
– Japanese Sports: A History, Allen Guttmann & Lee Austin Thompson, 2001