Showa-Shinzan International Yukigassen Tournament
Snowball Fighting (Yukigassen)By: © Michael J. Rosen 2014
"Snowballs, the Sole Weapon of the Matches, Are Made with a Specifically Designed Octopus Dumpling-Style Snowball Maker."
In yukigassen, Japan's organized sport of team snowball fighting, chilly artillery is thrown without fear of detention, lawsuit or-we've all been there-sneering taunts of "You throw like a girl!" or "What's that jacket? Your sister's hand-me-down?" (Okay, so maybe "we all" just means us, in this case.)
Far from the playground or backyard, the Showa-Shinzan International Yukigassen Tournament takes place at the base of a Japanese volcano. Viewed by 28,000 spectators, over 150 teams from around the world compete in a sport that requires "strong willpower, quick judgment, and intelligence"-as well the self-confidence required to present a business card with the words "professional snowball fighter."
Played seven against seven with an arsenal of 90 snowballs for each team, yukigassen is waged on a snow-covered, volleyball-sized court with three snow shields on each side and one in the middle. Each game is comprised of three periods; a team must win two of them to claim victory.
The teams, often dressed in wintry pirate regalia or Baywatch costumes, employ complicated strategies, as they...
- tag out opponents by hitting them with a sphere of frozen ammo.
- hide behind one of the snow baffles to launch or avoid an icy orb of elimination.
- perform their best imitation of James Bond (theme music reverberating in their ears) executing one of those spy rolls between two shields while simultaneously firing a flurry of glistening globes.
- capture the opponent's flag located in the middle of their side.
Started in 1989 as a means to bolster winter tourism at the mountain (the "Come See the Volcano...Free Sno-cones for the Kiddies"-campaign went over like a lead snowball), the competition is now played at Mt. Showa-Shinzan in Sobetsu, Japan and at its sister cities in Finland and Norway. With various degrees of seriousness, the sport is also getting welcomed with anything but the cold shoulder in Canada, the United States, and other areas where winter means four months of gray skies, long nights, and Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Each competition produces snowballs for each match in a standardized manner: Snow is heated to improve malleability, scooped into a 90-ball mold, and repeatedly packed into the mold until the snowballs are model-perfect and ready for action. (Would you expect less from a culture where apprentices study seven entire years to master the techniques of gyodan, the eighty-year old art form of creating beautiful plastic replicas of food?)
Ready to start your own yukigassen league? Just remember, with 180 snowballs flying in a blizzard-like atmosphere, it can be difficult to tell friend from snow.
Looking for less "local color" than paintball? Go snow-white at www.yukigassen.jp.
No Dribbling the Squid
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