Before the fight begins many people feel sorry for the bulls that have to take part in this, but after the first strike, all such thoughts disappear naturally. Everyone is impressed by the bulls’ size, power and attractiveness. Strong bond can be felt between the bulls and their trainers standing nearby. Let me introduce the hot bull fighting of Uwajima in Ehime prefecture.
First, what is bull fighting in Japan?
Unlike the similar attraction in Spain where bullfighters challenge the animals, in Japan the bulls clash against each other in something that resembles dog fighting or sumo tournaments. There are many theories about how it began. Some of them claim that bull fights appeared naturally from the animals’ inherent instinct to strike, while others suggest it might have started as a religious ritual. No matter what the origin was, bull fighting has been recorded already in the 12th century, making it one of the oldest Japanese cultural traditions.
Presently bull fighting takes place at about 10 locations in Japan, among which the northernmost is Kuji city in Iwate prefecture, while the southernmost is Nakijinson in Okinawa prefecture. I will now introduce the location of Uwajima city in Ehime prefecture, where national tournaments and regular bull fights are held 5 times per year!
Let's go to Uwajima Bull Fighting Arena
When you go to the dome-shaped arena on the top of a small hill, you will see a queue of people waiting eagerly to enter and watch the bull fights. Matches are held only several times per year, so it is a big local event!
It’s better to book a ticket in advance. Online reservations at Uwajima Bull Fighting’s official site are possible from one month in advance. The popular Uwajima mythological creature Ushioni welcomes you at the entrance of the arena. Ushioni has a bull head and a long neck. It looks a bit scary but is believed to exorcize evil energy. I recommend taking a photo in front of Ushioni.
Continue further and you will enter a circular arena with a diameter of 20 meters. The bulls are already lined up and waiting, so the air is filled with their powerful fighter’s smell. The distance between the seats and the arena is quite short, and although there is a fence, you will be excited to see bulls weighing 1 ton each clash together from so close. Uwajima Bull Fighting days: January 2, April (first Sunday), July 24, August 14, October (fourth Sunday) Note: The dates might change.
Check the ranking and bout schedule!
Bulls are categorized in a similar ranking system as the sumo wrestlers according to their past performances. Generally bulls fight only against bulls from their own category. Just like in sumo tournaments, the first bulls to clash are the ones from the bottom of the ranking. The trainer’s name and additional information is written next to each bull’s name.
Before the bouts all bulls appear on stage one after another to present themselves to the audience. Some are silent but with a burning fighting spirit, while others make loud sounds expressing their strong ambition. The highest ranking bulls are physically impressive and have a solemn presence. You can cheer for any bull you want during the bouts so pick your favorite one and check its name and ranking.
And the fight begins!!
Two bulls enter from the opposite sides of the arena, exchange glances and suddenly clash their horns! The fight begins.
Their trainers encourage them from the side. The entire arena gets filled with the echo of the bulls’ fierce breathing, their trainers’ shrill shouting and the dull sound of the clashing horns. The fight is in its climax. If the bull starts losing and slowly retreats, it will be encouraged by the trainer and will attack with freshly overflowing fighting spirit. A really impressive hot view that will make you forget to blink. The bout ends when one the bulls loses the fighting spirit and runs away. There is no more fighting after that. The time isn’t limited and the winner is determined based on which bull is stronger. Unlike the bullfighting in Spain, bulls don’t get killed. The loser naturally has its spirit taken down, but leaves the arena in a similar dignity as when it entered. In Uwajima there is also a traditional system for paying “fight money” to the losing bulls in order to show sympathy to them.
Come to the arena after the matches end!
The last fight is between the highest ranking bulls and the winning one remains on stage after the matches end. Then people from the audience can enter the stage too. It is a little scary to go down where fierce battles took place just a few minute ago, but the bulls are tied and usually calm. Sometimes they are still raging, so approach them carefully and safely together with their trainers.
The bulls are encouraged to fight every day by their trainers. They become strong under the loving care of the trainers who treat them like family members. Bulls have a natural instinct to thrust their horns into rocks and walls, so their horns, neck and shoulders are well trained.
Knowing all of this you start wishing for all bulls to be champions, but it is a world of winners and losers. Let’s show our respect and gratitude to their imposing fighting spirit.
Bull fights are important for the people too
Raising a fighting bull takes enormous efforts, time and money. For the trainers and their family bull fighting is a dream that might perish within a second together with all the efforts depending on the outcome of the match. That is why everyone is serious about it – the trainers, their families, and the audience in the arena.
Bulls feel that and display their impressive pride. During fights they strike forward, dig into the ground with their hooves and try to do everything not to lose the match. Sometimes they go down on their knees only to strike the opponent from below with their horns. That is how smaller bulls happen to defeat bigger ones.
It is understandable that many people watching the powerful fighting spirit become attracted to the bulls. Definitely try and become a witness of this ancient Japanese culture of “solemn bull fighting” that is loved by many.
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