You big crybaby: Japan's Nakizumo festival
The occasion was the centuries-old Nakizumo (literally "crying sumo"), a popular festival held annually around Japan.
Following fierce competition for places, this year 100 babies born in 2009 battled it out at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, to see who could be traumatized first by the amateur sumo wrestlers. The day began with speeches and an introduction to each baby. Mothers carried their infants, some in colorful little costumes, others with creative hairstyles (including one mini Mohawk), up onto the raised open-air sumo ring.
Then, the competition began in earnest, to the delight of the assembled crowd of curious foreigners and doting parents and grandparents. Expensive telephoto lenses pointed en masse at the stage; shutters clicked away frantically. Two babies being held and harassed by the sumos faced off at a time, with the first to cry -- or if both cried, the one who did so loudest -- being the victor.
Legend has it that a loud and powerful cry will ward off evil spirits and ensure the baby will grow up strong and healthy. Judging by their reactions, some of the babies in this year’s competition were not at all worried about evil spirits. Some slept and others laughed, resisting all provocation by the sumos, the judge, and the foremen who came in from the corner of the ring brandishing fright masks, yelling “Naki! Naki! Naki!” (Cry! Cry! Cry!)
While most of the entrants came from Tokyo and surrounds, one hailed from as far afield as New York, which appeared to be something of a novelty. When Sage Witkin (whose parents are American and Japanese) took the stage, the priest asked “Are you ready?” in English, and said “Thank you very much” after he had achieved a sound victory over his opponent.
David Witkin, who was thrilled about the win, said his family decided to enter Sage in the competition after reading about it on the Internet.
“We thought it would be a great experience for us and him,” he says.
“It’s such a uniquely Japanese event and we filmed it so we’ll all remember it for the rest of our lives.”
Nakizumo at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo, is held on the fourth Sunday in April every year between 12.30 p.m. and 3 p.m. For more information, visit www.e-asakusa.jp (Japanese only)
Simone submitted this piece as part of CNNGo’s CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.