By Michael B
Like the Ojiya Bullfighting Arena located about fifteen minutes down the road, the Yamakoshi Bullfighting Arena offers visitors a chance to experience the Japanese tradition of Tsunotsuki, a variant of bullfighting that has been around for over 1000 years.
While the experience is much the same as its partner venue down the road, the Yamakoshi Bullfighting Arena has a few features that make it special. As a visitor to this storied place, it was clear that it celebrated the past while looking to the future.
Tsunotsuki is not unlike the sport of Sumo, but simply pits bulls against each other instead of humans. Like sumo, the event is deeply connected to Shinto traditions and was a way to show thanks for the harvest. It is also a demonstration of strength and stamina where there is no intent to deal long term harm to either of the participants. One other long-held similarity was the prohibition on women entering the arena.
Yamakoshi Bullfighting Arena was the first place in Japan to see a break from the male-dominated tradition when in May 2018, women were permitted to enter the ring for the first time. That is not to suggest that women did not have an important role in rearing and training the bulls before that, but it was the first formal recognition of those centuries of women who were banned from entering the "sacred" arena.
This willingness to recognize the parts of tradition to cherish and the parts to evolve is part of the draw of the Yamakoshi arena. In fact, on the walk up the hill from the parking lot to the arena, visitors can read about the evolution of the tradition beginning with the first recorded tsunotsuki event and ending with the designation as an "important intangible asset." I have no doubt they'll be adding another section soon.
Another aspect of the arena that's charming is the invitation of fans to decorate roof slats cheering on their favorite stables. It was just another charming element that humanizes a millennium-old tradition in the modern era.
The arena is open on off-days for visitors who want to walk the grounds. On days of events (generally once or twice a month between May and November), tickets cost 2000 yen. Tickets may be purchased at the arena or in convenience stores throughout the country.
Yamakoshi Bullfighting Arena is located atop a mountain in Yamakoshi Village, adjacent to Ojiya city. There is a city bus that drops off about a five minute walk from the venue. It is a 20 minute taxi ride from Ojiya Station.
There is ample parking for visitors with their own private or rental vehicle.
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