Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest


Calming an upset and sobbing baby is a parenting woe anyone with kids can relate to. But the Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest is testament that getting infants to cry when you want them to, albeit for auspicious purposes, can pose quite a challenge as well. 


Sumo wrestlers compete to make babies cry


Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - baby wailing
Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest at Tomioka Hachimangu, Tokyo’s largest Hachiman shrine.
Image credit: Isshin Naki Sumō

With a history of more than 400 years, the Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest is a traditional festival organised annually in shrines across Japan. Typically held on Children’s Day, 5th May, the premise of the traditional event is simple – sumō wrestlers compete to get babies to cry. 

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - 2 sumo wrestlers make babies cry
Image credit: Isshin Naki Sumō

2 sumō wrestlers, each with a baby in hand, will enter the dohyō (土俵; wrestling ring where matches are held). There, they have to do everything and anything at their disposal to induce some tears. This includes making silly or scary faces, loud noises, or bouncing the baby lightly

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - shinto priest uses oni mask to tease baby
Shinto priest using an oni (鬼; demon) mask to tease the infant.
Image credit: @kaorunya87

If the baby ends up being tickled by the adults’ antics and breaks into laughter, the Shinto priest facilitating the competition will even don traditional ogre masks to turn on the waterworks. 

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - shinto priest makes baby cry
Image credit: @tunimaal

The first infant to wail will win the competition. If the 2 competing babies happen to burst into tears simultaneously, the one with the louder cry will be declared the winner and blessed with good health. 


Baby’s cry believed to an auspicious sign


Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - 2 babies crying
Image credit: @marina0727

Making babies cry may sound counter-intuitive, but the traditional event has its roots in the old Japanese saying “泣く子は育つ” (naku ko wa sodatsu), which translates literally to “crying children grow”. 

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - shinto priest makes a baby cry
Image credit: @yoshinori.k9

According to this proverb, loud cries from a child is a sign of health and the kid will grow up to be strong. It’s also believed that a baby’s cry can fend off any evil spirits and demons. 

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - sumo wrestlers and shinto priest make a baby cry
Image credit: @tu_mori

Thus, the event is hugely popular among parents. Most shrines require an advanced application and a fee of ¥13,000- ¥15,000 (~USD125.63-USD144.96) per registration. For the more popular shrines, a lottery system is even used to determine the lucky ones who get to participate in the competition. 


Watching the Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest


Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - sumo wrestlers raising babies up in the air
Image credit: Isshin Naki Sumō

The Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest is held at shrines nationwide and throughout the year, so check out the official website here for more details. But to get a feel of the unique event, we’d recommend the one held in Sensōji Temple at Asakusa, which is widely considered to be the best and most popular of the lot.

Naki Sumo Baby Crying Contest - 2 sumo wrestlers raise babies in the air
Image credit: @kariyanotaicyan

If you have a temperamental baby who cries easily or know someone who does, this is the time for them to shine. Participation is not limited to locals – for a good reason, as tears are universal. 

Interested parties can submit their application here from 15th January 2021 onwards. Some places even accept registration on the day itself if there are still vacancies available.  

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Cover image adapted from: @kaorunya87 and @marina0727

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