Nakizumo (Crying Baby Sumo) Festival In Memory Of Ichikawa Danjuro IX

There are many festivals that are held throughout the year in Japan.

No matter when you visit this beautiful country, you are sure to find at least one festival happening somewhere in the country during your stay.

Nakizumo (Crying Baby Sumo) Festival in Memory of Ichikawa Danjuro IX

One of the more interesting and unusual events is the Nakizumo which is known in English as The Crying Baby Sumo Festival. 

What is this festival? What happens and when does it take place? In this article, we will explain all you need to know about the Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival.

What Is The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival?

The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival is a festival held annually in several locations across Japan.

It is a contest where two babies are held in the arms of sumo wrestlers who are standing across from each other in an open-air sumo ring.

The babies are usually aged between six and eighteen months of age.

The babies are held until one of them begins to cry. The first baby to cry is the winner of the contest.

If both babies begin to cry simultaneously, then the baby with the loudest and longest cry is named the victor by the judges.

The winner is then given a blessing of good health for the future.

How Does The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival Work?

The festival is held at Shinto shrines across Japan. The exact details of the festival can change from location to location but they do all follow the same basic plan and outline.

The festivals typically begin with rituals from a Shinto priest.

These rituals can vary from shrine to shrine but the main focus of the festival is the contest with the sumo wrestlers and crying babies.

The sumo wrestlers can employ a variety of tricks and techniques to try and make the baby they’re holding cry first.

This usually includes actions such as bouncing the baby or making loud and funny noises.

The sumo wrestlers might also make funny facial expressions or encourage their baby to cry by chanting “Naki! Naki!,” which means “Cry!, Cry!” in English.

Usually, this is enough to make a baby cry but sometimes, it isn’t.

In some locations, the referees or judges of the contest might try to make the babies cry also by wearing traditional Japanese masks in an attempt to scare the babies into crying.

How Do Babies Participate?

The babies are volunteered for the festival by their parents.

In some locations, the number of parents wanting their children to take part in the Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival is far higher than the number of places available so a lottery takes place to randomly choose the participants.

Typically, a festival will only have spaces for around 100 babies and this often leads to parents traveling across the country to participate in a festival at a less popular shrine.

Many parents want their babies to take part in the festival because the winners receive a blessing for good health.

Blessings for luck and health are a key component of the Shinto religion and there are many occasions where Japanese people try to get these blessings.

For example, the first shrine visit of each new year is seen as very important and people will line up for hours to visit a shrine in the first few days of the year and receive a blessing.

What Is The History Of The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival?

The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival has been held in Japan for over 400 years and continues to be held in modern-day Japan.

The festival uses crying babies because it is believed in Japanese folklore that the loud cries of innocent babies have the power to banish and ward against demons and evil spirits.

There are several Japanese festivals throughout the year that are also focused on warding against evil spirits.

One of the most common is Setsubun which occurs between February 2nd and 4th.

Known as the Bean-Throwing Festival in English, one of the customs of Setsubun  involves eating and throwing beans in the home to keep evil spirits away.

When And Where Does The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival Happen?

The date of the Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival can differ from year to year and from location to location.

It’s usually around Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day), a public holiday that takes place each year on May 5th.

Typically, it happens from late April to mid-May.

There are several different shrines throughout Japan that have their own Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival.

Each shrine charges a participation fee for each baby and this is usually between 13,000 to 15,000 yen. This is around $90 to $110.

The participation fee usually includes a souvenir for every baby that takes part in the festival. Viewing the festival as a spectator is free of charge.

The Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival In Asakusa

The most famous location for this festival is held at Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The applications for taking part in this festival run into the thousands every year.

The festival in Sensoji is held in front of a statue of the famous kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX.

This bronze statue is located behind Sensoji Temple and was restored in 1986.

It shows the actor playing the role of Kamakura Gongoro, a character from the popular kabuki play Shibaraku.

The character is distinctive because of his hairstyle and his childlike manner.

Since 1991, the statue has been a focal point of the festival and provides the perfect backdrop for the contests.

The sumo wrestlers that take part in the festival in Asakusa are usually student sumo wrestlers from Sensoji.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took an in-depth look at the Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival. We described what the festival is, how it works, and where it usually takes place. 

We hope that if you’re in Japan in late April and early May, you’re able to see the Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival for yourself. Have fun!

Mylene Mace