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Bo-taoshi for Beginners
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Bo-taoshi for Beginners

A unique pole-toppling sport, Japan’s Bo-taoshi is a true spectacle and an exciting attraction while visiting this unforgettable country. 

What is Bo-taoshi?
Bonus Recommendations


While Japan is famous for sumo wrestling and martial arts, it also has many lesser-known traditional sports that have flown under the radar. One of these is Bo-taoshi. A brutal and seemingly chaotic sport featuring teams of 75 people on each side, there’s nothing quite like Bo-taoshi as a sport or as a spectacle. Japan’s love of sports, outdoor activities, and colourful festivals, is one of the many reasons to visit this amazing country, and Bo-taoshi has a reputation as Japan’s wildest game. With the JR Pass, you can travel the length and breadth of Japan using the country’s super efficient domestic rail network in search of unique experiences. In today’s blog, we’ll tell you all about Bo-taoshi with bonus recommendations for other Japanese sports, from traditional Sumo, Kendo, and Ekiden, to baseball, snowsports, and F1. 

What is Bo-taoshi?

In some ways, bo-taoshi (which translates as ‘topple the pole’) is a mix of capture the flag, rugby, sumo, American football, and martial arts, all in one! While its full origins are much debated, it dates back over a century and has been played by Japan’s National Defence Academy and in schools for decades, although it is less widely played today due to concerns about how dangerous it is. Japanese sports historians believe that bo-taoshi originated as a combination of several other Japanese sports, namely hata tori (capture the flag), sao nobori (pole climbing), and tsuna nobori hata tori (climbing a rope and grabbing a piece of cloth). The game involves a 11.8 metre pole with one team charged with defending it and keeping it standing, with the other team responsible for attacking it and trying to topple it. This battle between two teams of 75 leads to enormous scrums of bodies wrestling and grappling with each other for control of the pole. It is wild, brutal, dangerous, and a unique must-see spectacle. Bo-taoshi players where soft padded helmets, kneepads, and cups, to protect themselves, but injuries are a regular occurence.

Today, while bo-taoshi is still played in schools, your best chance to see it is either at the National Defence Academy where it is played by pupils on the academy’s anniversary each year or at Kaisei Gakuen school in Tokyo - a prestigious secondary school founded in 1871 - where the game has been a rite of passage for decades. Here is a quick summary of the rules courtesy of the National Defense Academy:


  • Each match lasts two minutes.
  • One team has lost if their pole is tilted to a 30° angle. 
  • If there is no winner, the match will be immediately replayed until it is decided.
  • Each team is split into attackers and defenders. Offense wear shirts in their team's colour, defense wear white shirts.
  • Punching, kicking, strangling, pulling heads, and similarly dangerous behaviour is not allowed.

Defence positions

  • Rider on top - a single player sitting or hanging from the top of the pole
  • Circle - a group of players surrounding the pole
  • Pole support - defenders inside the circle supporting the pole
  • Interference - defenders whose job it is to interfere with attackers

Offence positions

  • Attackers - single offensive players
  • Scrum - a formation of attackers which can be used as a springboard for attackers
  • Chargers - players tasked with charging at the pole

Bonus Recommendations

Bo-taoshi is just one of the many, fascinating and thrilling sports you’ll find in Japan. If you’re interested in the country’s other popular sports and activities, here are our bonus recommendations.

  • Attending a Sumo match is a great way to experience one of Japan’s most traditional sports. 
  • Kendo brings to life Japan’s traditions and customs through a sport that follows in the footsteps of the samurai. Our guide on How To Experience Japanese Martial Art of Kendo will tell you everything you need to know.
  • Ekiden is a unique long distance team running relay that is very popular in Japan and not widely known in the west. Read our Guide to the Incredible Sport of Ekiden to find out more. 
  • It may surprise you to discover that the Japanese love baseball. It’s seriously big in Japan and attending a baseball match in the Nippon Professional League is a great way to experience the passion of Japanese fans. Discover more in our Beginners Guide to Japanese Baseball
  • Japan offers some of the finest ski slopes and resorts in the world and has hosted the Winter Olympics several times as a result. If you love winter sports and want to know more, read our Starters Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in Japan
  • Start your engines! Japan loves Formula One and the country has one of the sport’s most celebrated circuits - Suzuka. Read our guide to F1 Racing in Japan for more.

All photos credit to @dozodomo (Flickr) / all rights reserved.

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