Let's watch Tsunotsuki deeper
1. What is Tsunotsuki?
Tsunotsuki in Ojiya is different from bullfighting elsewhere. Bullfighting overseas is often "matador-versus-bull" and what springs to mind for most people is the kind of bull fighting in Spain. With matador, bull, cape and sword.
Tsunotsuki is "bull-versus-bull" and different in that we will not decide a winner or loser. Tsunotsuki avoids long and thorough/exhausting fights between bulls. The bulls are drawn by handlers at an appropriate time. Usually after 5 or so minutes. Quite a different philosophy and approach to bullfighting from other countries.
Tsunotsuki in Ojiya had its beginnings in the Shinto religion, the thinking guided more by worshiping at the shrine. It is said that a dreadful battle was avoided because it was not a suitable dedication to the God who protects the land.
Ending Tsunotsuki in a draw also takes into account the thoughts of those who raise and carefully handle the bulls. The bulls are their irreplaceable assets and viewed more as living companions and part of the family. The state of this draw was written in the literature of the late Edo period, and its description and appearance is the same as it is now. The draw is one of the most important traditions that people involved in Tsunotsuki have kept unchanged to the present day. They say, "We are not doing bullfighting, but Tsunotsuki."
In addition, only Tsunotsuki is designated as an important, intangible folk cultural asset of Japan. The remnants of ancient animal competitions are recognized in various ways, as is seen in the manner in which a draw is given in Tsunotsuki.
2. Characters of Tsunotsuki: Ushi-mochi, Seko, and Tsunotsuki-ushi
There are three main characters in Tsunotsuki - Ushi-mochi, seko, and Tsunotsuki-ushi.
Ushi-mochi is the owner and raiser of a bull. Although they keep bulls, they are not engaged in the livestock industry. Ushi-mochi are the same as ordinary people, who keep and raise bulls as "part of the family", not as a business. They are quite different from most people in that they very much like looking after and raising bulls carefully and lovingly. Caring for bulls involves not only feeding in the morning and the evening, but also walking and exercising, hair brushing, nail care, mowing and so on. A person who is willing to do such work and is ready to devote his life to a bull is Ushi-mochi. Their life translates to "Bulls first."
Seko is responsible for supporting the bulls during Tsunotsuki. Young people who are calling out to the bull "Yoshitaaa!" are Seko. "Yoshita!" is Ojiyan dialect, which means "well done". The most important thing among a Seko’s role is to separate the bulls. This is realized by the Seko pulling the bulls apart by human power. Seko is a dangerous role, and sometimes they are injured, but they are also the stars in Tsunotsuki because of their courageous work.
Tsunotsuki-ushi are the bulls. The breed is a "Japanese shorthorn" which traditionally has brown skin. Japanese shorthorns are mainly raised in the border regions of Iwate Prefecture, Aomori Prefecture, and Akita Prefecture. They are also called "Nambu-ushi."
Tsunotsuki is held at Higashiyama and Yamakoshi areas. Traditionally these areas had a history of importing and raising "Nambu-ushi" for labor. This point is reflected in Tsunotsuki. For the first-time viewer, every bull may look the same, but the personality, face, and fighting style differ.
Another characteristics of Tsunotsuki is also a bull’s life span. Some of Tsunotsuki-ushi are raised to near the age of 20, which is the biological life of bulls. Given that life expectancy of beef cattle is between 2 and 3 years old, the length of the life of Tsunotsuki-ushi indicates how important Tsunotsuki-ushi are for Ushi-mochi.
3. Process of Tsunotsuki: Focusing on a draw
Basically, the order of Tsunotsuki is similar to that of sumo wrestling. Like with sumo, the earlier Tsunotsuki matches are held with young bulls, and stronger bulls are scheduled to fight as the matches progress. In the last three matches, called "Shimai-samban", great matches are arranged. For example, Yokozuna class bulls fight each other, or a middle-class bull challenges a Yokozuna class bull.
Tsunotsuki is not merely letting the bulls fight each other. There are various traditional rules in the work of a Seko and the process of Tsunotsuki fighting. These rules are very much seen in the processes surrounding the draw. Both bulls exert their strength and it is said that the state that they are equalized is the best. Therefore, if one bull is going to attack a little more and is likely to make the battle equal, the Seko will watch over the situation. On the contrary, if both bulls continue fighting and the state of equality is likely to collapse, then the Seko will draw them apart as soon as possible. Even if the difference in strength of the bulls is clear, Seko will create a state of equality and smoothly draw both bulls without missing that moment. Making an equal state is the most important role of Seko.
The basic work of a "draw" is as follows: first, Seko-cho, who is the chief Seko, judges the time of the draw and instructs Seko to draw. Next, two Tsunakake hook the rope to the bulls' hind leg at the same time at the indication from Seko-cho, and the Seko pull the ropes to stop the movement of the bulls. While the movement of the bulls is stopped, "Hana-tori" catch the holes of the bulls' nose, a sensitive part for the bull, to further aid in separating bulls. This also helps in calming the bulls down from the fight. The fight ends at the time the noses of both bulls are caught. Starting with the signal from the Seko-cho, it looks spectacular as the Seko head for the bulls all at once. Tsunotsuki until the draw is "bull vs. bull", and Tsunotsuki after the draw is "human vs. bull". Tsunotsuki consists of these two highlights. If this draw is done very smoothly, we hope you praise a good fight not only for the bulls, but also the Seko.
4. To know more about Tsunotsuki
Tsunotsuki is supported by involvement of many people. Leaders who watch over Tsunotsuki, a commentator who adds light commentary to every match, women who take over the reception desk and other chores, Seko and families with their bulls, local residents and tourists supporting from the audience. Tsunotsuki is well established for these people and their commitment is strong. Rather than seeing Tsunotsuki as just a "battle between bulls", you can also look at the traditions involved and various people behind it. Hopefully you will enjoy Tsunotsuki on a deeper level and find it very enthralling and engaging.