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Naki Sumo Baby Crying Festival. Source: lensonjapan / Flickr.

Sumo Wrestlers Make Babies Cry at the Ancient Naki Sumo Festival


History is replete with oddities and peculiar rituals that have stood the test of time, and Japan, with its rich tapestry of culture and traditions, is no exception. Enter the "Naki Sumo Baby Crying Festival" – a bizarre yet deeply rooted tradition where sumo wrestlers make babies cry.

Crying for Good Luck and Health

The Naki Sumo Baby Crying Festival, or simply Naki Sumo, is held annually at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, as well as other locations throughout Japan. The festival's origins trace back over 400 years, and at its core lies a deeply held belief: the louder a baby cries, the more they ward off evil spirits and beckon a life of good health.

The festival begins with a pair of sumo wrestlers, each holding a baby, standing face to face in the sumo ring. Initially, the wrestlers gently shake the babies and chant "nake, nake" (which means "cry, cry") to coax the little ones into crying. If the babies resist, the sumo wrestlers may don masks or make funny faces – anything to initiate those tears. The baby who cries first or the loudest, depending on the rules of the particular festival, is declared the winner.

However, the festival isn't just about making babies cry. It's about how they cry. The belief is that a baby's cries will reach the heavens, and a robust, hearty cry indicates a vigorous, healthy baby.

A Deeper Dive into the Ritual's Symbolism

While the spectacle of sumo wrestlers trying to make babies cry might seem unusual or unethical to outsiders, the festival is imbued with profound symbolic underpinnings. In Japanese culture, there's an old saying: "Naku ko wa sodatsu," which translates to "crying babies grow fat." This proverb encapsulates the idea that crying is a sign of life and vitality.

Moreover, the juxtaposition of the hulking sumo wrestlers – symbols of strength, discipline, and endurance – with the fragile innocence of babies creates a powerful imagery. It embodies the entire lifecycle, from the vulnerability of infancy to the resilience of adulthood.

While the primary objective is to make the babies cry, the sumo wrestlers are gentle and caring throughout the process. The babies' well-being is always paramount, and there's a deep sense of respect and love evident in the proceedings.

Top image: Naki Sumo Baby Crying Festival. Source: lensonjapan / Flickr.

By Joanna Gillan

Joanna Gillan's picture


Joanna Gillan is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. 

Joanna completed a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in Australia and published research in the field of Educational Psychology. She has a rich and varied career, ranging from teaching... Read More

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