Japan from the inside out

Scoopin’ up the gold

Posted by ampontan on Monday, August 29, 2011

GOLDFISH swallowing was a fad that surfaced in the 1920s and reemerged in the 1930s in the US, popularized by that omnipresent and amorphous pool of college boys who have a hyperactive imagination, a disinclination for schoolwork, and are always game for doing something new and goofy.

The Japanese have enjoyed pastimes using live goldfish since at least the 19th century, but here they scoop instead of swallow them. The rules are simple: Grab the most in a certain amount of time and you win.

In fact, Yamatokoriyama, Nara, has held a National Goldfish Scooping Championship every year for the past 17 years. No one will be surprised to learn that the city is one the largest goldfish production regions in the country, or that they think the championship is a marvelous way to promote the industry. More than a few people will be surprised, however, to discover that there were 1,801 competitors at this year’s event last weekend — and that new event records were set in both the Adults and Kids divisions.

The new champion in the adult division is a 19-year-old bucko — the perfect age! — from Kashihara in the same prefecture. He scarfed up 87 fish in three minutes. Interviewed by the media after his victory, he said, “I was lucky. I’ll shoot for a hundred next time.” He’s got the professional athlete’s postgame attitude down pat, doesn’t he?

The winner in the Kids division was an eight-year-old boy from Osaka who managed to scoop 73. Now this is a boy who’s got the right stuff. He told reporters, “I’m happy, because this is the first time in my life I’ve become number one in Japan at anything.” It sounds as if he thinks becoming number one in Japan at several other things later on in life is a foregone conclusion.

This a serious competition with official rules, by the way. You don’t just bring a dipper, buy a ticket, and go fish. The contestants face off in 26 separate pools, which are filled with about 1,000 fish each. In addition to a three-minute time limit, there’s a rule that contestants have to use the official goldfish scooper, which is called a poi. It is made with a round wood frame and washi, or traditional Japanese paper, to cover the business end. Scooping circuit veterans advise beginners to start from the fish head and avoid the tail, whose flopping could tear the paper. In fact, the Yamatokoriyama website has an English-language page with helpful hints on goldfish scooping, which I’d link to, but the WordPress software isn’t accepting hotlinks at the moment for some reason.

It’s a tradition to have the participants in these competitions take all or some of the fish they scoop home with them. That might present a problem for the winners of the event. Just what do you do after you’ve become responsible for 87 new goldfish all of a sudden?

Swallow them?

Goldfish swallowing is harder to do in the U.S. these days, but then it seems harder to have any kind of fun there these days. Some Christian churches used it as a way to help children overcome the Fear Factor. PETA didn’t like it:

“We all agree that children must come to terms with their fears,” said PETA director Debbie Leahy, “but causing tiny goldfish terror and pain as they are eaten alive is no way to teach kids a lesson.”

Leahy’s group claims “fish are intelligent, sensitive animals who have developed cognitive abilities and who experience pain and fear, just as all animals do.”

PETA had no comment on the terror and pain of tiny goldfish as they are eaten alive by birds or animals in outdoor pools, or fed to the predatory species some aquarium hobbyists keep, or even roughly jerked out of their home environment by the hundreds as amusement in Japan.

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2 Responses to “Scoopin’ up the gold”

  1. Marellus said


    Good post.

    About PETA, I can only say this : Smokers have it infinitely worse. But that is just my opinion.

  2. Jonas said

    I prefer scooping over swallowing, that’s for sure^^

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