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[Hidden Wonders of Japan] Naki Sumo in Morito Daimyojin Shrine

Infants become champions in the adorable Naki Sumo, or crying baby ceremony, one of Japan's lesser-known traditions celebrating transitions in a child's life.



Adult sumo wrestlers present the baby sumo wrestlers to the audience. (©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)

"You're still in the game! You're still in it!" a firm voice echoes across the shrine grounds, an unusual phrase for this setting. The tone resembles that of a sumo gyoji, or referee.

"Show us your fighting spirit! Let your spirited cries be heard!" This time, the guidance is enthusiastic and supportive. However, despite the scene before you, it's not a clash between sumo titans — it's a ritual marking a child's development.

The "match" begins. (©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)

The cries of babies pierce the air, sharp and direct. It's as if they have something important to say, though their tear-filled eyes speak volumes.

"Time's up! What a match!" Two adult sumo wrestlers each carry a baby dressed in similar attire, presenting them to the audience and raising them high toward the heavens. Parents reclaim their little champions, showering them with warm embraces.

"Representing the East division, born in Kamakura ..." The next match at Morito Daimyojin shrine is about to commence.

A wrestler doing the "shiko" (sumo leg lifts) with a baby in front of sake barrels. (©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)

Naki Sumo

Naki Sumo (nakizumo) is primarily held at Shinto shrines during annual festivals, such as Shichi-Go-San (a celebration for three, five, and seven-year-old children) and other regional events. It is deeply rooted in the Japanese belief of marking the passage of time and celebrating the growth and development of children. The act of crying symbolizes the transition from infancy to childhood, and eventually, into adulthood.

The event is open to the public and free of charge, but certain shrines and temples may require parents to either submit an application or pay a fee to participate. In some highly sought-after locations, children are selected through a lottery system, prompting parents to journey across Japan in search of opportunities.

The fee is designed to cover the costs of the ritual and often includes keepsakes, although many would consider this experience to be truly priceless for every member of the family.

Crafted for Tradition and Memories

Every kabuto helmet that graces these young sumo warriors is a work of art. It is handcrafted with love and precision by the staff. Beyond its aesthetic appeal, these helmets symbolize the start of a journey for these babies — a journey into a world where they'll face challenges and celebrate milestones. The baby's sumo ring name emblazoned on their forehead serves as a reminder of their unique identity within society.

A baby wearing a handmade kabuto helmet. (©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)

A Token of the Event

As a memento of this cherished occasion, a banzuke chart featuring the baby's sumo ring name is presented to the family. This chart can be taken home alongside the handcrafted kabuto helmet, preserving the memory for years to come.

Banzuke chart
Baby's handprint and a gunbai fan with a lucky charm attached.

An Abundance of Choices for the Little Yokozuna

With a diverse array of approximately 100 decorative sumo loincloths to choose from, parents are presented with a delightful opportunity to not only adorn their baby with a unique symbol of Japanese culture but also to contemplate the symbolism behind their choice.

As the parents capture those commemorative photos of their little one donning their carefully chosen loincloth, consider the broader message at play. It's not just about the outfit — it's a representation of the choices parents make for their children, knowing that in the future, they will face countless decisions.

Colorful mawashi loincloth for babies. (©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)

Just like selecting the perfect loincloth, these choices won't always be easy. And parents may not always make the "right" decision. Yet, it's a reminder that, like the sumo loincloth, parents do their best to provide their children with options and guidance to navigate a world filled with choices.

The Handmade Dohyo

The handmade dohyo, the sacred stage where the baby sumos battle, is a testament to craftsmanship and tradition. This carefully constructed arena represents the challenges and obstacles that lie ahead in their child's life journey. As parents, watching their baby's adorable presence on this stage is a poignant reminder of their role in supporting and nurturing them as they face these challenges with courage and determination.


No Tears, No Fears in Isshin Naki Sumo

Every tear that falls is a testament to the emotional growth of the baby. There are no winners or losers when it comes to crying babies. Instead, there is celebration. As they watch their child in these one-on-one bouts, the parents play a crucial role in providing a loving and supportive environment. Their presence reassures the baby as they take their first steps into a world full of challenges, ensuring that their future is filled with love and encouragement.

(©JAPAN Forward by Galileo Ferrari)


Author: Galileo Ferrari

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