A hushed silence falls over the crowd of 30,000 spectators. The two competitors stare intently at one another. They size up their opponent. They limber up their arms and necks. Suddenly, the judge, dressed in a colorful robe, shouts the immortal words that begin the competition: ‘Cry, Cry.’ Thus begins the Japanese festival centered on sumo wrestlers making babies cry.
The Nakizumo Festival has been part of Japan’s cultural traditions for nearly 500 years. The event occurs throughout the country, with rules differing in each prefecture. Tokyo’s version, held annually in the popular tourist district of Asakusa, highlights the Sensoji Temple. At this year’s competition, over 100 sumo wrestlers cradled tiny babies in their powerful arms. As two wrestlers and babies face off in each round, the winner is the wrestler whose baby cries first. In other parts of the country, the baby that cries first loses.
In Tokyo’s version, the sumo wrestlers attempt to illicit tears by growling, grunting, tickling, and a number of other moves that cause no physical harm to the children. If neither wrestler brings their child to screaming tears within 4 seconds, the judge intervenes. He wears traditional masks that look like demons, while also making noises and scary faces to cause the babies to cry. Whenever one does start bawling, the spectators roar with approval. Never before have crying babies been so warmly received. Just ask Donald Trump.
The underlying belief behind the festival is that allowing babies to cry loudly is good for them. It provides an outlet for their worries, including not being fed enough and not realizing why people keep disappearing during games of peekaboo. Furthermore, the Japanese believe that an infant’s shrieks scare away demons and purify the temples. Additionally, the louder a baby’s screams, the better its health will be in the future. By that logic, every baby that has ever flown on an airplane will live to be 200 years old.