Japan Travel Guides: Bull Sumo on Dogo, Oki Islands, Shimane Prefecture
Bull Sumo on Dogo Island, 闘牛
Japan is probably not a country that you would normally associate with bullfighting, but in fact there are several places across Japan where bullfighting is an ancient tradition still practiced today.
However, unlike Spanish-style bullfighting, you won't see matadors or the bulls being stabbed with swords as bullfighting in Japan is not a matter of man versus bull, but rather bull versus bull, and could perhaps be better described as Bull Sumo (togyu).
Two bulls butt heads in a trial of strength until one retreats, pretty much as happens in the natural world. The bulls remain unharmed and the only damage is to the losing bull's pride. In Japan, the most well known place for bullfighting is in Okinawa, but there are also a few places on the main islands where it is still popular, Uwajima on Shikoku is fairly well known, and bullfighting also takes place in Iwate and Niigata prefectures.
Dogo Bull Sumo
The photos here are from Dogo, the main island of the Oki Islands in the Sea of Japan off the coast of Shimane Prefecture, and from where many believe bullfighting spread to the other areas of mainland Japan.
Bull sumo is believed to have begun in the early 13th century as a form of entertainment for the exiled Emperor Gotoba. On Nakanoshima Island at Oki Shrine, built next to the site where Gotoba resided, a large open area in front is where it is believed that the first match took place.
Bull Sumo no longer takes place on Nakanoshima, but on nearby Dogo it is still very popular and even makes an appearance on the local decorated manhole covers.
Dogo Sumo Rings
There are four bull sumo "rings" scattered across the island, three being open-air, but the main site, Momo Dome, is covered for protection against inclement weather.
As in human sumo, there are six tournaments throughout the year, one at each of the outdoor rings, and three at Momo Dome. Check with the tourist office concerning the dates when you are planning to visit to find out exact dates.
During the main tourist season there are extra demonstration bouts held at Momo Dome. Each bout is preceded by the entrance of the two contestants, led by their handlers called tsunatori, with banners and flags and if either bull is a champion with the appropriate champion's banner. During the bout each tsunatori stays connected to his bull with a rope through the nose so that if there is any chance of a bull being injured they will be able to be pulled apart.
Bull Sumo Bout
A bout usually lasts five to ten minutes, though shorter and longer times are not unknown. The two bulls put their heads down, lock horns, and push, sometimes spinning around, sometimes moving back and forth. Like human sumo it is primarily a test of strength, though some technique is involved.
There are different weight categories, so the bulls are evenly matched by weight but can be different ages. Sometimes the energy of youth overcomes the wisdom of age, sometimes the reverse. When one concedes and turns away the match is over.
Bull sumo is best seen at one of the tournaments when crowds of cheering locals add to the excitement.
Ikeda, Oki-gun, Okinoshima-cho
Tel: 0851 22 0787
Getting Between the Oki Islands
A fairly frequent and fast ferry service connects the three islands of Dozen, but between Dozen and Dogo you need to use the car ferry or fast ferry.
Read more about access to the Oki Islands and getting around the islands.
Useful Oki Island Resources
- Oki Islands UNESCO Global Geopark
- Oki Islands Events Calendar
- Oki Islands Nishinoshima
- Oki Kisen Ferries