May 30, 2015

Naki-zumo, sumo of tears

It is not uncommon to hear parents complaining about their babies crying non-stop, and thus, giving them sleepless nights. And stopping a baby from crying is no mean feat, and can easily turn into an ordeal or an nightmare, as you will never know whether singing a lullaby, pulling a face or cradling them in your arms will work. There is no sure-fire formula, except, perhaps, for the self-deceiving act of putting in earplugs, pretending all is peace and quiet.

The opposite, bringing tears to a baby, is obviously a much easier task, but nobody in their mind will consider becoming the author of their own misfortune. Except, maybe Japanese. As bizarre as it may sound, a popular contest called Naki-zumo, or sumo of tears, is held around Japan every year, in which sumo wrestlers, are employed to exhaust all their means, barring violent ones, to make the baby in their arms weep, the louder the better. In each round, two sumo wrestlers holding a baby each in their arms will enter the ring, and the baby who cries first wins. In some cases, the bare formidable hugeness of the sumo wrestlers is enough to prompt them to cry out. 

But why? A popular saying in Japanese goes “Naku ko wa sodatsu”, or “crying babies grow fast”, and this apparently has given birth to this seemingly bizarre contest, or ritual. This event is commonly held at a shrine, which carries the meaning of showing the newly born babies to the guardian spirit of the place. In the modern days, this event is mainly run to pray for infants’ growth and for healthy childbirth.

This ritual, of course, is fun to watch, but whether it is appropriate to take pleasure in the pain of others may be debatable.

To help you decide whether you would like enroll your baby in this potentially cruel contest in the future, you may want to check out the first ever sumo of tears contest in Takayama city, which will be held on June 14 (Sunday) from 9am at Hida Gokoku Shrine.

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