Autoethnographic Research P.1 – Native Asian Sports: Bo-taoshi (British Bulldog on steroids)

The first sport I will be focusing on in my Autoethnographic research task is a capture-the-flag-like game, played on sports days at schools and defense academies all around Japan. Bo-taoshi is a beautifully dangerous sport consisting of teams up to 150 people (a team has 75 attackers and 75 defenders) with the main goal of toppling the opponents pole. The game was invented in the 1950’s as a way of training new military recruits for war.

Brief Introduction of the rules:  

  • Played on a rectangular field
  • Two poles are placed in direct line with each other. 75 defenders from each team stand around their pole – attempting to stop the 75 opposing attackers from toppling their pole. The methods of stopping the attackers fall upon grappling, tackling or any form of military physical defense.
  • No equipment is used aside from a large wooden pole
  • Shoes are not worn
  • Helmets are encouraged
  • Defensive team wears plain white, and the offensive wears their team colour (red, orange, green or blue).
  • Two teams of 75 players attempt to knock to opposition’s pole to at least a 30° angle towards the ground, in under 3 minutes. [1]

First impressions before-hand: 

Even before viewing content of the sport, I get the sense from reading the rules, Bo-taoshi is very chaotic and hard to control. The fact you have so many people occupying such a little space just screams bone dislocation. Never has color coded uniform been so important in sport –  as otherwise you’d be buying a lot of beers for your team mate you recently knocked out cold. I also understand why the game is employed by military students, as it does sound like a survival of the fittest scenario. For me this is a sport that I would never expect to be regulated in Australia.


Content accessed for this Auto-ethnographic experience:

Surprisingly, accessing content online for Bo-taoshi was very easy. It seems that the sport has already made a big splash around the world with many videos and articles showcasing the entertaining game. I will be experiencing this sport through several videos accessed on YouTube.

Video 1 Video 2 Video 3

Video 4 Video 5  Video 6

Video 7

My experience of the media content: 

  • First thing that hits me instantly is the level of noise. Shouting, screaming blaring from the participants as they grapple and tackle each other. This is spurred on by the crowds synchronized  chanting – so chaotically ruthless yet systematically controlled.
  • How fast it goes from zero the hundred. Sound of the gun signalling war evident in all videos.
  • Kids laughter, evident that the game has been culturally indented as a family sport. All videos take place as a daytime family event.
  • All sense of human morals are thrown out the window, stepping on each other, hurling them selves over people. Kicking the other members.
  • This is like my childhood game ‘British Bulldog’ – but on steroids.
  • In Video 2 , when the whistle is blown after the time limit expires, the match is called a draw. I feel a overwhelming sense of futility, as all this warrior like efforts amount to nothing.  Hands raised after the match also signifies a surrender in battle – also evident in Video 2.
  • Signal of bowing beforehand, represents the importance of respect in Japanese culture. Also evident in most martial arts.
  • Both teams also present some sort of ceremony or dance before the match. This consists of jumping, hand movements and vocal screaming. Can only assume it is a representation of a teams desire to win, much like a Haka in Polynesian rugby. Evident from Video 3.
  • No real sense of self-care. People place themselves in imminent danger; such as the men who remain crouched on the ground that hold the poles up and the 3 or 4 men standing at the top of the pole.
  • No identifying features on the uniform. Juxtaposed to western sports were each player has a number or name on the jerseys. Might relate to the notion of equality in Japanese sport. No individual scoring whatsoever, either the team wins or the team loses, there’s no way to distinguish yourself other than that.
  • Video 4 showcases a halftime like show of military planes dropping parachutes and a gun toting presentation. Adds to the atmosphere of a rally for the Japanese army. Almost to the point of propaganda .


    Gun toting show at the event

Interpretation of Japanese sporting culture compared to further research:

A lot of pride in these young men participating in the game. They are representing their battalions, so winning is of up-most importance. This can account to most of the aggression and violence. Recently, schools have prohibited punching and kicking as a way to crack down on the violence in the sport. However it seems that this is more of a battle than a sport. I get a sense that Bo-taoshi relates to the very traditional nature ingrained in Japanese sports. The presentation of ceremonies and cultural signifies (such as bowing) add to the notion of heritage and cultural routine. From further research, it appears sport plays a significant part in the fabric of modern day Japanese life. From a young age children join school teams, instilling a sense of camaraderie, character, pride, hard work and dedication [2]. Respecting your opponent is another aspect reoccurring through further research. Other sports native to Japan  such as: Karate, Sumo Wrestling and Kendo all require a great showcase of respect to your opponent. You know the saying ‘its more than just a game’? Well in the Japanese sporting culture – this takes a literal sense.

Autoethnographic reflection:

For me, ethnographers are like sponges. Observation through all your senses account for everything. Since you approach the experience with a totally open mind with a desire to soak up the cultural juices of another nation, ‘signifiers’ play a huge role in cultural interpretation.

Next time I will be looking at my second sport: Sepak Takraw; a sport native to South-East Asia.





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