The one place in Japan where pillow fighting is a competitive sport.

If you were to ask someone what sport is played in yukata (summer kimono), with tatami mats as the playing field and pillows as the sporting equipment, they’d probably blink at you in confusion. However, there really is such a sport, and it takes place every February as the All-Japan Pillow Fighting Tournament.

Held in Ito, a famous seaside onsen town in Shizuoka Prefecture, the tournament is now in its 12th year, having been initially born from an idea by a student at Jogasaki High School. Students in Japan commonly take part in pillow fights during overnight school trips, so the idea to turn it into a competitive sport quickly caught on as a way to help promote the city, and now 48 teams compete in the championship.

This year, the tournament will take place on 24-25 February, with 72 games played on the first qualifying day and 40 games on the final day. With eight people on each team — two in attack positions, two on defence, and one captain and one libero — the goal is to throw your pillow to hit the captain on the opposing team, with one kakebuton (futon blanket) used for defence.

Teams play a maximum of three two-minute sets, with the winner of two sets moving on to the next round. During the matches, a judge blows a whistle at random times and calls out, “The teacher is coming!” which is a sign for one team to lie down and pretend to sleep while a member of the opposing team crosses over to steal as many pillows as possible.

▼ Games are played indoors on a 40-tatami ‘field’ (20 mats on each side), with approved pillows from trusted manufacturer Makura Corporation (“makura” means “pillow”).

The pillows have been specially designed for ease of throwing, while also being soft enough to avoid injury, even with the hardest of throws.

The bright colour helps the pillow to stand out during intense competitions, and the outer material is stronger than usual, to withstand tearing. The weight of the inner latex is designed for optimal speed and distance, and best of all, it’s available for sale online so students can practice their aim before the tournament.

Of course, it’s not just students who can purchase the pillows, as they’ve proven to be popular with members of the general public as well. The pillows can be purchased online at Makura and Rakuten for 3,950 yen (US$26.69), and are said to be good for both relieving stress in pillow fights and for sleeping on.

The tournament certainly has come a long way since its early days, when the pillows looked markedly different. We’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them when the championship is held at the Ito Citizens Sport Centre, because nobody wants to get hit in the head with a pillow, no matter how soft and tournament-friendly they are!

Source: PR Times (1, 2)
Featured image: PR Times
Insert images: PR Times (1, 2)
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