What American kid doesn’t have a precious memory of pelting their younger sibling, parent, or best friend in the face with a freshly packed snowball?
As I mentioned at the beginning of my last post, this past weekend was the annual White Battle snowball fight tournament in Shichinohe. Though snowball fights in America are basically restricted to kids – from the elementary grades all the way up to college seniors – flinging snowballs at each other for half an hour before getting bored and trudging back inside to melt into the couch. Yeah, you’ll get the occasional huge neighborhood or dormitory battle going, but even the most heated of those usually don’t last too long.
Not so in Japan.
In Japan, snowball fights (雪合戦, yukigassen) are taken seriously. This is not your neighborhood friendly snowball fight. No, there are huge yukigassen tournaments in Japan, and they’re not just for children. Grown men will suit up for these tournaments, and many of the teams practice for weeks and months beforehand. Their eyes are set on the cash prize and bragging rights that go with the first place finish.
Naturally, the ALTs of Aomori gleefully take part in our prefecture’s own snowball fight tournament. Last year, we were woefully, embarrassingly unprepared. We’d thought that this would just be good for a laugh, that no one actually took this seriously. Oh, how wrong we were.
First of all, the rules packet for this tournament is about five pages long. (And it’s obviously all in Japanese, which makes it a bit difficult for us.) The rules are exhaustingly thorough, ranging from descriptions of how snowballs can be passed from team member to team member to explicit instructions that spikes are not allowed to be worn on your shoes.
Basically, these tournaments are set up like capture the flag. Two teams face off, each determined to get to the flag on the other side of the court. Each team has seven players: four forwards and three defensemen. Forwards can’t cross to the back of the court, where the stash of snowballs lies. Each player can only have two snowballs in hand at a time. There are barriers to duck behind and use as shields. Each round lasts two minutes. Get to the flag without getting hit, and you’ll be your team’s hero. Helmets must be worn, as the machine-shaped snowballs are more like iceballs. (And oh, how pretty the bruises are that they leave!)
After showing up completely ignorant to how this tournament worked last year, our team (the Exploding Cream Puffs) actually put some thought into our strategy this year. We had planned a rush tactic. After all, get everyone running towards that flag, and at least one person is bound to make it there without getting hit. Unfortunately, we’d misread a rule that stated only four members of our team were allowed into enemy territory at a time. So while we’d gotten to the flag quickly and easily, we were disqualified since too many of our players were on the opposing team’s side. Too bad.
Judging by the laughter of the judges, though, we were wholly entertaining, especially because we did our best Braveheart impressions by screaming up a storm as we charged.
Last year, we’d stayed around for quite a while, sledding and having our own 外国人 snowball fights. The weather had been sunny, warm, and all-around gorgeous. This year? The first two words that come to mind are “frigid” and “blizzard.” Strong winds and horrifically cold temperatures meant that the plans for playtime after our short-lived tournament appearance didn’t sound quite so appealing this year. When one of my team members mentioned going back home only ten minutes after our battle had ended, I was all too happy to trek back to the city. As fun as the White Battle had been this year, I was eager to thaw my frozen blood and get some feeling back into my fingers.
Maybe next year, the ALTs of Aomori will actually put in a respectable appearance. (But probably not.)