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TokyoTreat Japanese Snacks BlogNaki Sumo: The Crying Baby Festival with Sumo Wrestlers!

Naki Sumo: The Crying Baby Festival with Sumo Wrestlers!

James LauJames Lau
Published Time
Posted on 
April 27, 2024
One of many sumo wrestlers holding a baby.

Naki Sumo, known as the Crying Baby Festival, occurs at shrines across Japan from late April to early May. This festival ensures babies grow as healthy and robust as sumo wrestlers! Let’s take a closer look at the Naki Sumo festival!

What is sumo wrestling?

Sumo wrestling is a traditional Japanese sport, originally performed as entertainment for Shinto deities. Today, Japan’s national sport is known for its rituals, like purifying the ring with salt. Men compete to force their opponent out of the ring or to touch the ground with anything other than their feet. Matches are short but intense, taking place in a clay ring. With no weight classes, wrestlers focus on gaining weight as part of their training.

A sumo wrestler holding a baby.
This event usually happens in April. Image via Shutterstock

Sumo tournaments happen six times a year across different cities. Wrestlers are ranked based on their performance, with positive records leading to promotions and negative records resulting in demotions. The top division, Makuuchi, includes the most skilled wrestlers. At the same time, the highest honor, yokozuna, is reserved for grand champions who cannot be demoted but are expected to retire gracefully when their performance declines.

What is the Naki Sumo Festival?

The Japan’s Naki Sumo (also “Nakizumo“) Crying Baby Festival is a unique event where parents bring their babies to compete in a crying contest. Sumo wrestlers gently shake the babies while a referee taunts them to induce tears, shouting “nake, nake, nake!” or “cry, cry, cry” in English. If the babies don’t cry, scary masks frighten them into crying. The winner is the baby who cries first or the loudest.

Two women holding babies at the Naki Sumo festival.
Ther event happens every year. Image via Shutterstock

The festival has a festive atmosphere, but many babies don’t cry, so sumo wrestlers use various ways to encourage tears. The event is inspired by the Japanese proverb “naku ko wa sodatsu” or “crying babies grow fast,”. It’s also based on the belief that crying babies grow strong and healthy and ward off evil spirits.

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When and where does it take place?

The Nakizumo Festival is held across Japan. In Tokyo, it takes place at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa and Yukigaya Hachiman Shrine in Ota City. In Nagoya, the festival occurs at Shirayama Shrine in Nisshin City, while in Tokyo’s Chofu City, it’s held at Kokuryo Shrine. Other locations include Yokohama’s Aobadai area at Kotori Maekawa Shrine and Fujisawa’s Shirahata Shrine. The festival happens between late April and early May at these locations.

A sumo wrestler holding a baby while a Shinto priest in an orange robe acts as referee.
If the baby cries, it means they’ll grow strong! Image via The Irish Times

The festival continues through the summer and into early autumn, with events scheduled in various cities such as Nagaoka, Kobe, and Yokohama. Locations like Chiba’s Koiwa Shrine, Saitama’s Tokorozawa, and Fukushima’s Hibita Shrine are among the many venues hosting this traditional celebration. These events allow families to participate in a unique cultural experience while enjoying the festivities and blessings for their children.

What happens at a Naki Sumo festival?

At these festivals, babies wearing ceremonial sumo belts step onto the sumo ring, accompanied by sumo wrestlers, and their cries are celebrated as a sign of vitality and strength. The event is conducted at various shrines across Japan, typically during days like Showa Day and Children’s Day. One of the most famous Naki Sumo festivals is held at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, where many people, including foreigners, participate.

Two sumo wrestlers holding one baby each.
Have you ever been to the Naki Sumo festival?Image via Reflections Enroute

During the festival, ceremonies such as prayers for the babies’ well-being, naki sumo bouts, and the babies’ first “sumo” stances are held. Parents can also participate in events like beating drums for their babies to encourage growth and receiving celebratory handprints.

Why is the Naki Sumo festival important?

The Naki Sumo festival holds great importance. It is based on the belief that crying babies become strong and healthy. This wards off evil spirits. The festival is more than a competition. It is a celebration for families to bless their children and make memories. Parents join in ancient traditions at this event. They pray for their babies’ health and get commemorative handprints.

Moreover, the festival highlights some of the quirks of Japanese culture, representing the country’s deep-rooted traditions and values. By celebrating the health of infants through sumo wrestling, the Naki Sumo festival highlights the importance of nurturing and honoring society’s youngest members. Ultimately, it serves as a reminder of the bond between tradition, family, and celebration! Have you ever been to a Naki Sumo festival? If so, how did you enjoy your time? Let us know in the comments below!

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