Tokyo (AFP) – Japanese parents watched with glee on Sunday as sumo wrestlers tried to reduce their babies to tears, in a centuries-old ritual believed to bring good health to bawling infants.
More than a hundred sobbing babies were subjected to the ordeal at Tokyo’s Irugi Shrine, with their doting parents watching happily as the amateur wrestlers bounced them up and down in a makeshift sumo ring.
Some of the infants, aged between six and 18 months, were roared at in the face in a bid to get the tears flowing.
“The babies’ cries are intended to reach God and parents hope that their little ones will grow healthy and strong,” explained Yoshimi Morita, a priest at the shrine, where screams and squawks filled the air.
“So if a baby doesn’t cry at this event, sumo wrestlers try to make him or her cry on purpose, moving the baby up and down, while their parents watch with pounding hearts,” he said.
“There is no victory nor defeat in this wrestling, and a match always ends with a chorus of ‘Banzai raku!’ which means ‘Live long’.”
The ceremony dates back some 400 years and is held at shrines nationwide. The rules vary from region to region — in some versions the babies are raced against each other to see who will cry first, while in others the first crier is the loser.
Delighted mother Mae Shige said her son had performed well at Sunday’s event.
“He’s not a baby that cries much but today he cried a lot for us and we are very happy about it,” Shige said.
Yuki Ibusuki, another mother at the shrine, said of her son: “He’ll be one soon, and we wanted to come here so that we would have a memory of this event for when he grows up.”
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