Japan from the inside out

Child abuse

Posted by ampontan on Friday, September 7, 2012

IT’S long been thought in Japan that a crying baby is a sign of a healthy baby. Now combine that with the tradition of Shinto shrine festivals, the connection between sumo and Shinto, and the multitudinous and variegated ways people find to enjoy themselves in this country, and the idea of holding baby-crying sumo matches at the shrines isn’t a stretch at all.

These events are held in many parts of the country throughout the year. The photograph here shows the battle of the bawlers held at the Hiyoshi Shinto shrine in Yonago, Tottori, an institution founded in 1637.

The rules are simple: The one who cries first wins. The infants’ wails are met with delighted smiles from their families and spectators in the audience. In fact, the best way to incur parental disapproval is to start crying before entering the ring, or to stay calm and complacent throughout it all. In the recent Tottori competition, 28 crybabies from the age of six months to one year competed. The word yama, or mountain, was attached to the end of the boys’ names, and the word kawa, or river, was stuck on the end of girls’ names to create a resemblance to the names adopted by sumo wrestlers.

The father of one rikishi said:

“I was a little disappointed that it ended in a tie with him not crying, but I hope to raise him as a healthy boy.”

The photo below was taken at another event last Sunday at Mihama, Fukui. They’ve been doing it for more than a century as part of a larger festival that also includes real sumo matches with older children and taiko drum performances.

The video below was taken at yet another baby-crying sumo match on the same day in Kanuma, Tochigi, at the Ikiko Shinto shrine. The shrine’s name is written with the characters for living and child, and I don’t think it was a coincidence they selected it as the site.

Would something like this be possible in the West, or would some adult crybabies looking for a cause find a way to turn it into an issue of child abuse?

To decide whether it’s cruelty or an innocent good time, all you have to do is click on the video and see for yourself.

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