Primary and middle school children in Fukui Prefecture have achieved the best scores among all 47 prefectures in physical strength and athletic ability tests, the education ministry has announced.
Meanwhile, analysis of a questionnaire on children's fitness habits, conducted alongside the tests, revealed that children who enjoyed physical activities before entering primary school tend to have higher physical strength and athletic ability.
The annual test was introduced by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in fiscal 2008. About 2.14 million children in the fifth grade at primary school and the second year of middle school at national, public and private schools across the nation participated in the fiscal 2014 survey from April to July.
Students took part in eight events, including a 50-meter run and grip strength test. Results were graded in points with a maximum possible score of 80.
The national average scores in this year's tests were almost the same as those from the previous five times the tests have been conducted.
Fifth-grade boys achieved record national averages in four events, including sit-ups and repeated side-stepping, while fifth-grade girls set new record averages in five events. However, the average fifth-grade boy could throw a ball only 22.9 meters - a record low and 0.3 meters shorter than the distance set during the last round of tests.
By prefectures, fifth-grade boys and girls in Fukui Prefecture scored the highest ranking for the sixth straight year. Students in the prefecture also ranked high in a nationwide academic achievement test.
Ibaraki, Niigata and Saitama prefectures ranked high in the physical survey, while Hokkaido, Kanagawa and Osaka prefectures struggled, as they had in the previous survey. Second-grade middle school boys and girls in Hokkaido had the worst scores among the 47 prefectures.
In Fukushima Prefecture, which was affected by the nuclear crisis that began in March 2011, the ranking of primary school students improved slightly from the previous test. But its second-grade middle school boys ranked 41st, down from 34th, and the girls ranked 37th, down from 34th in the previous test.
"The effects from the nuclear crisis are still apparent," an official of the Fukushima prefectual education board said.
The questionnaire was conducted to research relations between sport habits, physical strength and athletic ability. Seventy-four per cent of fifth-grade girls said they enjoyed "various types of physical activities," including throwing a ball and tag, before they entered primary school. Among them, 42.8 per cent ranked A or B on a scale that measures physical strength in descending order from A to E.
In contrast, only 35.1 per cent of the fifth-grade girls who "always engaged in the same kind of play" ranked A or B, and only 19.7 per cent of those who "did not participate in physical activities" ranked A or B. Similar tendencies were seen in the boys' results.
"Due to a decline in their numbers, children don't have enough friends to play with. There are also fewer and fewer places where they can play. Amid such circumstances, parents and grownups have to try and give children opportunities to enjoy physical activities," said Takahiko Nishijima, a professor at Tsukuba University who specializes in sports statistics.