By Michael B
There aren't many cities in the world that can boast traditions that span over a thousand years, but Ojiya in Niigata prefecture is one of them. Known primarily for its koi farming, the tradition of bullfighting (or Tsunotsuki in Japanese) happens to be an "important intangible asset of Japan." This designation means that the tradition is a part of Japanese culture that warrants preservation.
Fortunately, visitors have an opportunity to experience this jewel of Japanese culture when visiting Ojiya, whether by taking a trip up to the arena on an off-day or visiting to see the actual bullfighting events themselves.
Located atop one of the nearby mountains, the Ojiya bullfighting arena is a small, relatively spartan stadium with covered and open seating for the events (tickets cost 1000 yen for open seating, and 2000 yen for covered seats). The bullfighting events run from 12:00 to 15:00 about once a month outside of snowy season (the venue is closed between December and April). On the day of the event, there are a combination of bouts, ceremonies, and showcasing of local bulls. Tsunotsuki is steeped in tradition, and all of the festivities surrounding the event reflect the deep connection to the past.
While there are likely some concerns over the issue of humane treatment of animals, it is important to note that Tsunotsuki varies from European variants of bullfighting. Instead of being man versus bull where the goal is felling the animal, the tsunotsuki event is a bull versus bull competition simply meant to demonstrate strength, stamina, and quality of breed, as well as to give thanks for the animals and the harvest. For any who understand the tribulations of life in Japan's snow country, it would have been entirely self--defeating to sacrifice these important animals, and the traditions are meant to honor them as much as they are to entertain.
Going on an off-day is still fun, as you can walk around the arena, take in all of the monuments, and enjoy the beautiful vistas of the surrounding Ojiya area.
Ojiya bullfighting area is a fifteen minute drive from Ojiya station. There are buses that run to the venue on the days of bullfighting events, and if you intend to take a taxi, ensure that you get a number for a local taxi company so you can call for pickup. There is ample parking if you are driving your own vehicle or a rental.
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