Bo-Taoshi: The Craziest Japanese Sport You’ve Never Heard Of

By Taylor Ahlstrom,

You may be aware that baseball, football, and sumo wrestling are Japan’s most popular sports. But Japan is also known for its interest in things a little more offbeat. One of those things is the sport of bo-taoshi (倒し). It literally translates as “pole bring-down.” Never heard of it? That’s because it’s strictly a Japanese creation whose origin is relatively unknown. It’s thought to have been created in the 1940s as a military exercise, and is still most famously played at the National Defense Academy of Japan. You can also see it played at junior high and high schools similar to the way American students play “Capture the Flag.” And the rules are sort of similar. Sort of.

Bo-taoshi involves two teams of 150 players each. Yes, you read that correctly. 300 people actively play the game all at the same time. Each team has 75 defensive and 75 offensive players. The objective? To pull down the pole of the opposing team before they pull down yours. Sounds pretty simple. Until you realize that in order to pull the pole down you will have to run on top of the heads of the opposing team whilst getting kicked in your own head by the person manning the top of the pole, also known as “the ninja” (にんじゃ, 忍者). As furious ninja kicks are employed all around, more and more attackers climb on top of their teammates and opponents attempting to reach the ninja and bring the pole down. The result? Pure and utter madness. But in a very structured, Japanese sort of way. It’s almost impossible to fully comprehend the mayhem of the sport until you see it played. So go ahead and watch this.

Now that you’ve seen it, would you join in a game of bo-taoshi? Which position would you play? Do you want to be the ninja perched on top of the pole? The attackers climbing up it? Or the barrier players protecting it? Or maybe, like me, you’d rather just watch safely from the stands.

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