I have to admit, I got a bit desperate during the lockdown. I must've watched every standup special on Netflix at least twice, and found myself sitting through interviews of bygone rocker stars on a German talk show. I don't speak German. But I think I got the gist of it.

During these stay-at-home times, there seems to be an increasing need for alternative forms of entertainment. We at grape recently covered some of the stranger Japanese game shows ever made as well as an Instagrammer that has developed an online following by doing comedy routines dressed up as his mother. Entertaining...or just confusing, I'm not sure.

Nevertheless, with sporting events taking place without fans and theme parks only partly open, it seems many may remain home for the foreseeable future. We’ll have to dig even deeper still into the archives for something entertaining to pass the time.


Bō-taoshi is a sporting event unique to Japan. Far more brutal than sumo or even rugby, the game involves two teams of 150 players each attempting to knock down the pole of an opposing team. On first glance, it seems over-the-top and dangerous, but there is a kind charm to this steroid-charged chaos. Have a look at the preliminary contest from 2019.

The game, most famously played annually by the cadets of the National Defense Academy of Japan, is fairly straightforward. Each match begins with an ōendan-like rally cry, and then teams are split into two groups of 75 members each. White shirts are the defenders. They establish their defensive formation around the pole before the colored shirt attackers are dispatched. The team whose poll is pushed down to a 30-degree angle first is the loser.

Although it appears to be a free-for-all, there are actually rules to bō-taoshi—but how closely they are upheld is hard to tell. As cadets are effectively climbing over opponents, shoes are not allowed. Punching and kicking are also prohibited—at least in theory—although tackling is allowed. Attacking players have free-range of the playing field, while defensive players must stay in a circumscribed area near the pole. Also, physical contact is not allowed outside of the area surrounding the pole. Fouls are levied for rule violations, and three fouls lead to disqualification.

The Strategy Behind Bō-Taoshi

There is some degree of strategy to bō-taoshi. As a wikipedia article points out, there are several player roles.

  • Barrier members form a barrier and steady the pole
  • The Interference attempts to stop attackers
  • Scrums act as a springboard allowing attackers to climb the barrier
  • Scrum Disablers stop members who are acting as a springboard
  • The Ninja (AKA Monkey) sits atop his team’s pole and attempts to balance it by acting as a counterweight
  • Pole Attackers work to take down the ninja
  • General Support Attackers tussle with the defense

Yet, there are other aspects to consider. In general, taller and stronger members should support the pole by forming specialized arrangements. Some may sit around the pole to form a support base.

Furthermore, front line defense is important. Here, taller members may be better, but they must be good at tackling. Front line tackling is essential in preventing a team's barrier from being breached. Members should tackle head-on with a clearly identified target. It's also best not to overextend one's body when lunging. While its a matter of preference, many feel teams should focus their talent on making a strong defense.

Finally, the fastest team members should be on the offensive--here, speed is everything. Scrums are also incredibly useful for breaching any defensive barrier, so teams should focus on that. Also, removing the ninja quickly will help teams to topple the pole and win the match.

By - Luke Mahoney.