As Christmas approaches, all the children (shijo) go crazy for snowball fights, a pretty nice way to enjoy the outdoors while having fun. Their parents (ryoushin) are also not asked to participate because the activity itself strengthens family and friendships. It is a privileged moment often marked by great laughter. Who could believe that on the island of Hokkaido in Japan, we do not joke with this practice?

Birth of an atypical sport

On one of the four main islands of the Japanese archipelago, snow battles are not considered a childish activity. Quite the contrary! It would even be a real sport. It must be said that the region stands out at the national level by its low temperatures but above all by the presence of the most beautiful snow (yuki, ) from Japan. A chance that a small village called Sobetsu was able to seize. It is indeed there that the world snowball championship takes place every year, an international competition called “Yukigassen” and existing for 28 years already. This year, it took place on February 21 and 22.

A discipline governed by rules

It is not enough to throw snowballs anywhere on the 36m long by 10m wide field to win the game. Like any sport, snow battles in Hokkaido take place according to well-defined rules of the game. First of all, let’s talk about regulatory dress and equipment because you can’t practice tennis without a racket or gymnastics in a down jacket. Likewise, players of this extraordinary sport are equipped with protective helmets, coveralls and numbered bibs. Their pace is also very similar to that of hockey players, with the difference that they only need their hands for their equipment. Two teams each made up of 4 attackers and 3 backs (7 players) face each other for three-minute rounds. During these, the rear prepare the balls then used by the attackers. You should know that the number of snowballs allowed per round is 90.

Principle of the game

The objective of each team is to seize the flag of the opposing team, a flag of course planted in each camp. Another way to achieve victory is also to end the game with a team made up of more players than the one opposite. In practice, however, it is not that simple because it is enough for a player to be hit by a ball for him to be eliminated, regardless of the thrower (teammate or opponent). This is the reason why the backs are used to hand their balls to the attackers or to make them roll. A rather clever way to limit the risk of elimination within your own team. This prisoner-ball-like sport is quite impressive, with bursts of balls being sent to either side of the line separating the two camps. Running is the best way to avoid them. Each group must implement its strategy to defend its teammates and eliminate as many opponents as possible, while knowing that progress on the ground is essential to reach the enemy camp. Players can then hide behind walls of ice during their advance.

This sport, invented in 1987 in Showa-Shinzan (Hokkaido), is enjoying growing success. If in Japan more than 1000 teams compete to win one of the 125 places available to participate in the Championship, the discipline is now exported to other countries such as Quebec, the United States, Canada, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Australia.

Photo: Jereme Wong

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