While Tokyo will be host to the grand sumo tournament beginning this weekend, Hiroshima will be holding its own iteration, the event of naki-zumo, which translates to “crying baby sumo.” Two toddlers are dressed in kimono of bright, vibrant colors, seated on two pillows in a small, round “arena,” and then they face-off to see who can cry the longest and hardest. A sumo referee begins the match by getting the babies to start crying. He will lightly taunt them, shout “nake, nake” (meaning “cry, cry”), and if all else fails, he puts on his demon mask to give them a fright.
While this may seem like a terrible practice, it is actually based on a 400 year old tradition in Japan. There is an established proverb that says “crying babies grow fast” (naku ko wa sodatsu), and the competition is meant to support the growth of healthy babies and strengthen their spirit. It also serves the tradition of scaring away evil spirits or those that bring bad luck. The tournament will held on May 5th, the Japanese holiday of Children’s Day, an important part of Golden Week. Usually any family with babies are allowed to participate, as long the baby is between 6 and 18 months old.