Uwajima’s Thrilling Sumo-Like Bullfighting


Uwajima’s Thrilling Sumo-Like Bullfighting

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When we think of bullfighting, we immediately picture the scene of a matador in Spain waving a red cape in front of a bull to excite it and prompt an attack. What is less well known is the fact that bullfighting has also taken place since olden times in various parts of Japan, albeit in a style differing from that of other countries. Since bullfighting in Japan involves two bulls locking horns, it is also called ushitsuki (bull locking) or ushizumo (bull sumo). Rules differ a little from district to district, but usually there is no limit to fighting time, and the bull that loses the will to keep on fighting and runs away is the loser. At the tournaments, bull handlers (seko) are on hand to control the bulls and steer them to victory. Recently I visited the city of Uwajima in southwestern Ehime Prefecture to find out more about these handlers and the daily life of the fighting bulls, as well as to watch the spring Uwajima Regular Bullfighting Tournament, which was held on April 7, 2019.

Uwajima City Bullfighting Arena

Popular Amusement for Centuries

 Generally speaking, there are two theories about the origins of bullfighting in the Nanyo region, which includes Uwajima. One is that the origins lie way back in the Kamakura period (1185–1333), when farming folk saw bulls used for farm work naturally locking horns and thought it would make a good form of amusement. The other has it that in the latter half of the seventeenth century local fishermen rescued a Dutch ship drifting in the Uwakai Sea, and the two bulls that were presented to them as a token of gratitude started wrestling each other. A historical document relates that full-fledged bullfighting in a ring was taking place at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
 Today the Uwajima Regular Bullfighting Tournament takes place five times a year and has become a well-entrenched amusement event for the local people. Let me tell you about the spring tournament held on April 7. The bullfighting arena is a splendid dome-shaped building situated atop a hill and reached in about five minutes by bus from JR Uwajima Station. (There is a free shuttle bus service.) In the middle of the arena there is a bullring with a diameter of 20 meters. Around the ring there are tiered spectator seats with a capacity of about 1,600 people. The large number of families attending was testimony to the popularity of bullfighting among the locals.
 At the opening, the Ozu Yosakoi Rarirurero Troupe, consisting of a group of vivacious senior high school girls, added gaiety to the atmosphere with a spirited dancing performance.

Exterior of the Uwajima City Bullfighting Arena Performance by the Ozu Yosakoi Rarirurero Troupe

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