On the fourth Sunday in April, Japanese parents descend on the shrines of Tokyo with their bundles of joy, which they promptly hand over to a sumo.
The two rikishi, babe in hand and weighing over 150 kilograms each, step into the ring. In a normal bout, they’d collide, trying to push each other out of the ring, but on this afternoon, it’s the two infants that are the competitors.
This competition is all about seeing which infant can cry the loudest.
The Nakizumo Festival (or ‘Crying Sumo’ Festival) has been running for, reportedly, 400-plus years. What inspires this bizarre act of infant wailing? The belief that having a sumo make your baby cry will elicit good health for the rest of its life. After all, a baby that can cry the loudest must have super capable, healthy lungs right?
Not only does the crying potentially result in a life of good health (scientific enquiries pending), but it is said that the cry of the babes can ward off evil spirits too. Not bad for a lazy afternoons work for the tots!
The competition itself sees the kids dressed in bright costumes with flamboyant hairstyles and there are some hard and fast rules that apply. This isn’t some unsanctioned mean-spirited attempt to make the waddlers wail. It is a bona fide competition.
Rule 1: The first child to cry is the winner.
Rule 2: In the event both children cry at the same time, the child that cries the loudest is the winner.
Of course, just being held by a giant wrestler in a loincloth isn’t enough to faze some of the placid weaners, so other participants and judges in the competition will adorn scary masks and literally chant at the little guys and girls ‘Cry!’ over and over until the tears begin to flow.
Thinking about entering your little one? You’ll have to get in early. Hundreds of parents descend on the Sensoji temple in Asakusa each year to grab some of the good health and evil spirit wards each year. If you’re in Japan, or inspired to be after reading this, the 2018 Crying Sumo Festival takes place on April 28 from 10am to 5pm.