At first glance, the Japanese Nakizumo festival looks barbaric and bizarre. A referee wearing a demon mask attempts to make one-year-olds cry while they are being held in the air by grown men wearing sumo wrestlers’ loincloths.
The babies look clearly unhappy about the whole thing and trying to purposely scare an infant just doesn’t seem like a very nice thing to do.
Controversial crying baby festival explained
But, the century-old tradition is incredibly popular in Japan and parents pay a decent amount of money to enter their infants into one of the competitions every year. This year is especially big for parents as it’s the first time in four years (since the pandemic) that the Crying Baby Festival is taking place again.
The name of the game is literally the “Nakizumo Crying Baby Festival” and the first baby to cry is considered the winner. Two babies battle against each other, both dressed in fancy garb and carried by a sumo wrestler into the ring.
The sumo wrestlers gently move the babies up and down, lifting them into the air to see which one cries first.
If neither cries, the referrer puts on an ‘oni’ demon mask to see if that will bring out the waterworks.
The first to cry is declared the winner. If both babies cry at the same, time, the one who cries the loudest is the winner.
It sounds terrible, but it’s actually part of a centuries-old tradition that is meant to bring the little criers good luck. Crying is considered a sign of health in Japan and the ceremony is meant to bless the infants involved. The festival also serves to drive away evil spirits.
Shigemi Fuji, chairman of Asakusa Tourism Federation which organised the event, said some people might think it’s terrible they make babies cry.
“But in Japan, we believe babies who cry powerfully also grow up healthily. This kind of event takes place in many places in Japan,” he said.
While the biggest event is held at Asakusa’s Sensoji, it also takes place in different spots across Japan. It is often held in April and May to coincide with Children’s Day in Japan, held on 5 May 2023.
Although it seems quite terrible, it’s incredibly popular. Only around 100 lucky babies are allowed to compete in the Crying Baby Festival every year so securing a spot is pretty exciting.
“We can tell a baby’s health condition by listening to the way they cry. Today she may get nervous and not cry so much, but I want to hear her healthy crying,” Hisae Watanabe, mother of an eight-month-old, told AFP.
This isn’t the first unusual baby ritual we’ve shared. Check out a few other unusual birth rituals and baby rituals from around the world.
Licking baby after birth
Licking your newborn straight after birth is part of Tibetan and Inuit culture. The reasons include:
- To remove the scent of birth to ward off predators
- To consume all the nutrients of the afterbirth
- To begin the socializing of the newborn
- To help with breastfeeding
- To bond with baby
Read more about it here: Why New Mums Lick Their Babies After Birth
In a lotus birth, the baby remains connected to the placenta even after bub is out of the womb. Rather than having the cord cut, mums choose to let it separate naturally in its own time – generally between 3 and 10 days. So, during this time, baby is still attached to the placenta.
The theory is that it has health benefits to bub and makes for a gentler transition from womb to world, but there is no evidence to support any medical benefits for the baby.
Read more about it here: Lotus Birth Story
This baby ritual occurs within the first year after a birth in Lithuania. The 20-year-old tradition sees toddlers crawl down a red carpet as their parents try to lure them to the finish line with toys and treats.
The event takes place every 1st of June to celebrate International Children’s Day and is open to babies 7-12 months of age.
In Bali, babies are not allowed to touch the ground for the first three months of their lives and must be held and carried at all times. It is believed that by not touching the ground, the baby’s connection with the spirit world is kept intact. After three months, there is a Nyambutin ceremony at which the baby’s feet touch the earth for the first time.