Welcome to the Crazy World of Bo-taoshi, the Japanese Sport You Might Not Want to Try

Bo-taoshi, which translates from Japanese into “bring pole down” is a crazy-looking capture the flag-like sport played in Japan. It’s high-octane, looks kind of fun, but it also looks kind of scary. Basically, two teams take turns going head to head with each other in an attempt to tilt the other team’s pole.

Welcome to the Crazy World of Bo Taoshi the Japanese Sport You Might Not Want to Try1
Image: Blogspot / 3yrsinjapan

Now, we take a trip to the far east to have a look at this sport. How is it played? What are the rules? How dangerous is it? What’s the history behind Bo-taoshi? We’ll answer the basic questions you have about the sport. In the end, you might want to book a trip to Japan when the pandemic is over to try it out. Or maybe you’ll just say a long and sincere “nope.”

“Game on!” or “gemusutato!”

So how exactly does one play Bo-taoshi? It’s really not too complicated. Each team consists of 150 people, split into 75 attackers and 75 defenders. In each round, which lasts two minutes, one team’s offense attacks the other team’s defense.

The goal of the attackers is to cause the defenders’ pole to tilt by an angle of at least 30 degrees. They do this by battle-charging at the defenders and by pushing and shoving. If the attackers tilt the pole enough, they win the round.

Welcome to the Crazy World of Bo Taoshi the Japanese Sport You Might Not Want to Try2
Image: The New York Times

If either team’s attackers don’t manage to tilt the other team’s pole within the allotted round time, the match is undecided and the teams face off again. Though the game relies on roughness and aggression, punching, kicking, head-butting, elbowing, kneeing, strangling, and pulling heads are prohibited. And although the melee battle for the pole might look completely chaotic, it’s highly organized with special positions on each team.

A Little Bit of History

How did Bo-taoshi come about? According, to Culture Trip, the origins of the sport are “shrouded in mystery.” Some claim that it emerged in 1945 as a battle exercise for the Japanese militia. This might make sense because the National Defense Academy of Japan hosts a match for its cadets as part of their induction ceremony.

Welcome to the Crazy World of Bo Taoshi the Japanese Sport You Might Not Want to Try3
Image: The New York Times

Interestingly (and somewhat unbelievably), kids and teenagers also play the sport on special occasions like national holidays. On the surface, it seems kind of crazy, but then if you stop to think about how kids at home play football (where one of the goals is to charge someone and tackle them to the ground), it might not seem that insane after all.