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  • Mason Masters

Bo-Taoshi: Japan's Insane Schoolyard Sport

Although I am a dirty millennial, I still play cable’s con-game for my television service. My wife gets the TV for "Big Little Lies" and the other 23 hours of each day are mine to rule. And in every single one of those hours, there is some kind of sporting event to watch. Baseball, football, the other football, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, golf, cycling, the other cycling, curling, skiing, the five other types of skiing, Australian rules football, track & field, hell, even darts is on once a week and that’s not even a sport! My point is for those of us living in the United States, we have achieved a sporting manifest destiny. I can watch whatever I want. Thanks to the beauty of DVR, I can watch darts whenever I damn-well please, which is whenever my wife is gone. We Americans have the power to be sports gluttons, beings existing to only enjoy the special rush of competition occasionally with a side of nachos, permanently rooted to our couches like sentient barnacles. There is no way we could ever take in all the sporting content available to us in this modern paradise. We are truly #blessed.

And yet.

I want more. There is still a hole in the dark, cold crevasse where my soul was once thought to live. I try to fill it with ten 24-hour sports-only channels, including channels devoted to once-rare Olympic events or indoor soccer leagues. And still I think to myself, there must be more to this provincial life. There must be something out there that would satisfy my American sensibilities for constant action, violence and poetic commentary on the life we lead. I’m happy to report friends, I have found the promised land. It is Bo-taoshi. You have never heard of it, and you must have it fed into your eyeballs. 


In very simplistic terms, Bo-Taoshi is the Japanese version of capture the flag. And since this is Japan we’re talking about, it, of course, ups everything to an 11. When playing Bo-Taoshi, two teams of many people (75 per team in the most famous version of the game played by the National Defense Academy of Japan) wage war on each other as they try to obtain a simple goal: lower the other team’s pole. Think of it as lowering the goal posts after a big college football win, except that the drunk college kids have to make it past the entire football team first and there’s a ninja on top of the goal post.

Yes, you read that correctly. 

Bo-Taoshi isn’t as fluid of a game as capture the flag, Players do not play both offense and defense in the same period of play. Basically, there are two poles surrounded by defensive players that are simultaneously attacked by each team’s offense. The defenders try their best to make sure the pole does not move from its 90-degree angle with the ground to a 30-degree angle by any means necessary. Yes, this is as violent as you think it would be. No, of course, they aren’t required to wear any protective gear. 

The game was first used as a training tool of sorts for militias and youth organizations near the end of World War II—you can imagine why. In order to win, a team needs to be organized, think fast, and act brutally to overcome their opponents. In order to even make it to the pole, a player has to hit several humans very hard in the face in the most efficient way possible. And again, for the most part even today, the players aren’t wearing a helmet. Take a look at a snippet of actual Bo-Taoshi gameplay and tell me you wouldn’t put down cash to see this live.

Is the NFL getting too soft for you? Here’s your sport! Upset that fighting in the NHL is on the verge of extinction? Here’s your sport! Hate that Thunderdome isn’t a thing yet? Boy, you are in luck. 

Because of the inherent danger involved, Bo-Taoshi is not without controversy in Japan. First of all, the vast majority of its participants are school kids, people who really need their brains to stay intact. The game’s uber-tough, macho culture can be harmful to these kids, who sometimes hide serious injuries in order to stay on the playing field, just like kids in the States. And like junior sports in America, kids do occasionally die from injuries sustained from Bo-Taoshi. 

What makes this game so curious to me is the fact that is has been a mainstay in schools, but has never graduated alongside its players. I mean, no offense to Japan, but an insane dystopian blood sport seems right up their alley. This is a nation with a rich professional martial arts history ranging from boxing to Sumo. This is a nation with a thriving pro baseball league. This is a nation with some of the craziest pro wrestlers on earth. There appears to be a market for both pro sports and obscene violence. Perhaps it is similar to how American school kids left dodgeball in their childhoods. It just feels juvenile to continue the game. 

But I say no! We MUST forge on. To my billionaire readers: Call Ted Turner. He’s putting pro wrestling on TNT again for God’s sake, we can get our Bo-Taoshi league on the airwaves. All we’ll need is a couple hundred million dollars, some empty arenas and a few hundred washed up MMA fighters or college football stars. If Japan won’t put on their big boy Bo-Taoshi pants, we will! Just, uh… maybe put the games on a tape delay first. 


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