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Nakizumo Festival – Sumo vs. Baby!

Will you be in Tokyo in April? Are you ready to watch the cutest festival there ever was? The Nakizumo festival is all about babies and sumo wrestlers.

One reason I love living in Japan is the opportunity to witness, and sometimes even join in, on some cultural activities that are completely different than anything I’ve known or experienced.  That’s why I couldn’t wait to go to the Japanese spring celebration called the “baby crying festival” or the Nakizumo Festival.

In my culture, we Americans, don’t want our babies to cry. We are embarrassed if we are out in public and the baby starts to make noise, any noise. “Children should be seen and not heard,” right? Needless to say, I was intrigued that in Japan, there is an entire day set up to make the babies wail. And what a festive atmosphere it is!

Young sumo wrestlers hold up 2 babies.
Sumos hold up babies to the delight of the audience.

What is the Nakizumo Festival (泣き相撲) ?

One ubiquitous feeling around the world, is that parents want their children to be healthy. This is no secret. It’s also no secret that for centuries, humans have made amulets, prayed, baptized, and developed many rituals and ceremonies to ensure their offspring are healthy.

Babies and sumo wrestlers in Tokyo, too cute!
One baby wails while the other looks into the face of his sumo partner.

In Japan one way this is done is through the Nakizumo festival.  It’s common thought that the healthiest people in Japan are sumo wrestlers who spend their entire lives eating right, exercising, and living a spirtual life. So whom better to help prepare your child be healthy and strong than a sumo wrestler?

Sumo wrestler with crying baby.
This little one clearly gets what the contest is about.

These hulks of human flesh are given the babies to hold and they then try to make them cry as quickly and easily as possible.  Just like in sumo, two babies are brought into the sacred circle, the dohyo, where the wrestler holds up the baby until one of them cries. The first baby to cry is the winner. If both start crying at the same time, the louder baby wins.

If you enjoy unique things you can only do in Japan, check out this podcast!

Pin Nakizumo

Sumos and babies, Oh My!

Where Are the Crying Baby Contests?

Nakizumo festivals are held all over the country, but it’s difficult to find out exactly when. Here are three festivals that are very popular.

Spring – Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo

The Nakizumo festival we attended, and probably the easiest one to get to for most people, is at the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. This Crying Sumo fest takes place the last Sunday in April, when the weather is getting warmer and it’s really pleasant to be outside, which is important for the scantily clad sumo wrestlers and some of the babies who don’t have much on. 

Nakizuno, or baby cry festival, is colorful and adorable.
Everyone at the Nakizumo festival is smiling, from the cameraman to the audience.

Fall – Ikiko Shrine in Kanuma

Legend has it that the Nakizumo festival got its start at the Ikiko Shrine over 400 years ago (source). In fact, the name “Ikiko” means “child can be restored to life.” The name came after a miracle brought back a child who’d died of small pox a mere ten years after the shrine was built.

Whether this legend is true or not doesn’t negate the fact that many people all over the country now like to follow the custom of having a sumo wrestler facilitate making their child cry.

To attend the festival at Ikiko, travel to Kanuma on the first Sunday after September 19th each year. The festival runs from 9:00-4:00. Parents can sign their children up the very day of the festival for a bit more of a cost than if they pre-registered.

Fall – Yamajioji temple in Wakayama

The Wakayama Nakizumo festival seems to be run a little differently than the others, and the babies are just put in the ring of sand to compete. If you are in the Kainan area on the second Sunday in October, it would be well worth checking this one out.

Sumo wrestlers holds a crying baby.
It’s all business at the Nakizumo festival. Everyone wants these contestants to grow up happy and healthy, so they do everything to try and make them cry.

What Can I Expect at the Festival?

“Naku ko wa Sodatsu” which roughly translates to “the crying child grows up,” and of course that is the goal of the festival, to be healthy and strong and grow up!

As I was researching this article, I found that like the shrines they are held in, each Nakizumo festival puts its own spin on the ritual. In smaller, less populated places there is perhaps more time to be playful and see what the babies will do on their own.

However, as Sensoji is such a large temple in the middle of Tokyo I felt they had less time to be as playful. Don’t get me wrong, the entire ritual is playful. Everyone from the referee to the audience is there for the cute kids and the happy families, but there just wasn’t too much time to wait for the babies to comply, so a winner would be announced and it was on to the next pair right away.

This cute little baby is ready to take on a sumo wrestler at the baby crying event in Tokyo.
…and he’s off to the contest sporting this year’s festival banner.

Before the Ceremony

At Sensoji, there are two rounds of ceremonies, one starting about 11:00 AM and one at about 2:30 PM. Parents start arriving at least an hour beforehand. They check in, and the babies are given a participation sash. Some put it on their children and some didn’t.

Parents dressed up their children in all kinds of clothes. Some took the “baby sumo” theme very literally and dressed their baby like a sumo. Some dressed them in costumes, like a Marvel character or Monkichi. Most just dressed them up in their best clothes, some more traditional than others. No matter what the babies were wearing, they were all adorable.

Families sat their babies on the stage, and lots of photos were taken. Then the call to line up was put out.

Mother with baby in sumo ring before the contest begins.
The baby parade introduces all this year’s contestants to the audience.

The Parade

The first part of the ceremony was to line up every baby with one parent. The parade was led by the smiling referee. They walked around the stage a few times, holding up the babies to the audience, pride beaming on everyone’s faces.

Proud father with baby before the sumo cry fest begins.
Babies are dressed in their best clothes or costumes.

The Baby Crying Competition

To begin, the announcer calls up two babies and the sumo wrestlers go pick them up from their parents. The parents happily turn over their infant or toddler to the hulking, near naked men.

The sumos climb back up on the stage and side by side, lift the baby, pretend to drop the baby, jostle the baby, anything to entice them to cry. Some babies have started crying as soon as they are handed over, but really not that many. Most hold out a minute or so and then start wailing.

The "helper" uses a mask to scare the baby.
Even though the job is to scare the babies, nobody really wants them to get too upset. This mask wielder is trying to gently make the baby cry.

However, some never cry and now the referee calls in the reinforcements. These are men sitting on the sidelines with scary masks in their hands. The masks are supposed to be bird demons, called “tengu,” and they are a bit scary (source).

The men with the masks don’t really want to scare the babies, but they do their best to gently make them start to cry. Again on some it works, and on some, nothing works.

The rules for this ritual is that the babies are in competition with each other, and the first one that cries wins. If they are both crying, the loudest wins. If neither cries, well, they don’t like that. I only saw it happen once. These two happy-go-lucky toddlers just wouldn’t be scared. Too darn cute!

Trying to scare a particularly happy baby with a demon mask.
This baby is just not scared.

Can My Baby Participate in the Baby Cry Ritual?

Each shrine holds the baby registration differently. In many places, just showing up and paying the fee is sufficient on the day of the ceremony. However, at Sensoji there are only about 160 slots for the entire day, and as you can imagine there is high competition for these slots.

In order to make it as fair as possible, parents must sign up for a lottery which costs about 150,000 Yen per child. Then the week before the ceremony, if they received a slot they are contacted.

If you are interested in participating, I would try to find a smaller shrine to do so.

How to Get To The Festival

Sensoji is one of the most iconic temples to visit in Tokyo, so it’s very easy to find. Many lines have stops in Asakusa, and from the station it’s about an 8 minute walk to the temple. It’s very easy to just follow the crowd. You know you are there when you see the huge red lanterns.

To find the Nakizumo ceremony, walk straight back and behind the temple. You will typically fight lots of crowds getting to the temple area, but once you walk around to the backside, it calms down considerably. The day we were there, there were thousands at the temple, but only a couple of hundred at the ceremony. It was much smaller than I expected.

Both babies crying but which one is louder at the Sumo baby crying festival.
We have a clear winner.

Where to Stay in Asakusa

There are over 300 hotels in the very popular Asakusa area, and I would say it’s a great place to stay for all of your Tokyo vacation.

We like to stay in Dormy Inns and there is one in Asakusa that we can recommend. The Dormy Inn Express has a foot bath, onsen, pajamas, tatami floors, and is a perfect peaceful Japanese hotel. Plus the price is right!

Where to Eat in Asakusa

There are so many restaurants in this area as well. Right by the temple, you will find street food, small izakayas, and tiny restaurants all the way up to large, expensive restaurants.

Here’s a few we can recommend:

  • Sometaro – Okonomiyaki – 2 Chome-2-2 Nishiasakusa, Taito City
  • Yoroiya Ramen – 1 Chome-36-7 Asakusa, Taito City
  • Tendon Tenya – Tempura – 1 Chome-9-2 Asakusa, Taito City
Another crying baby at the Sumo Baby cry festival.
This baby is wailing.

Other Things to Do Nearby

  • Tokyo Skytree
  • Kappabashi Street
  • Ueno Park


If you are looking for a true look into Japanese culture, and you enjoy a bit of fun and babies, you will love the Nakizumo Festival. Sumo wrestlers, men in masks and richly decorated costumes, and but babies. How can this not be a blast?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.


Thursday 6th of February 2020

Oh I do so love the Japanese. On my first visit to Japan I went to something like 6 festivals in 18 days. On my second visit it was much the same. Apparently there are 20,000 festivals per year! And I love Japanese festivals. But honestly I'm a bit nonplussed about this one. I can see that it's fun, and that the babies are treated gently, but what on earth is the reason they want to make them cry? Is it a belief that a baby cries if it's healthy? That's really odd since many babies are perfectly healthy and don't cry much. Anyway I can see it's a truly authentic slice of Japanese life that's for sure.

Corinne Vail

Thursday 6th of February 2020

Alison, I had all the same questions, but it was very cool and something I think that was totally unique.


Tuesday 14th of January 2020

This sounds like my kind of festival and it definitely sounds like the cutest festival ever. Puerto Ricans sometimes get a kick out of watching babies cry a little bit before we give in and do what everyone else does to comfort them back to happiness. But I'm not sure who I find cuter the Sumo wrestlers or the babies. Sweet post.

Corinne Vail

Wednesday 15th of January 2020

Thanks. Yes. It's one of my favorites. I love them both..the sumos and the babies!