Tearful toddlers battle in Japan's annual 'crying sumo' contest

TOKYO (AFP) - More than 100 babies faced off in the sumo ring on Saturday in an annual contest pitting crying toddlers against each other in a Japanese tradition believed to bring infants good health.

The "crying sumo" event, held at Tokyo's Sensoji Temple in the historic Asakusa district, saw hulking sumo wrestlers attempt to make 120 babies bawl on command to the delight of parents and onlookers.

The ceremony dates back some 400 years and is held at shrines and temples nationwide. The rules vary from region to region - in some versions, the babies are raced against each other to see who will cry first, while in others, the first to cry is the loser.

In the Asakusa event, which has been running since 1991, pairs of toddlers were brought into the sumo ring, where real sumo wrestlers held them and shook them gently as a referee shouted "Cry! Cry!".

The winner was judged to be the infant who cried the quickest and loudest.

Some burst out screaming with little prompting, but others required judges to enter the ring wearing a devil mask, drawing laughter from the audience.