Many of you may heard of 棒倒し (botaoshi, literal: knocking-over pole), one of many fine activities to come out of Japan. Is it as awesome as yukigassen or as dangerous as onbashira? How about a little of both? The best way to describe the sport is its mix of capture the flag, rugby, and king of the hill style of play.

The objective of the game is to topple the opposing team’s pole to a predetermined degree from the ground before the other team reaches the same goal. I have read different variations of the objectives for the game, such as the existence of team flags, and appending them to the top of the pole. If I had to take a gander, these differing of play is probably meant to establish a safer playing environment. I, for one, wouldn’t want to have my little kid to be involved in such a game. Maybe when he or she turns 8.

The game is typically played during a Japanese school’s (yes, even elementary school) annual sports day, although a notable amount have banned the sport due to the very aggressive style of play (polite way of saying that parents are getting soft).

So what are the rules of the game? There isn’t much information available on the game itself, but here is what I’ve gathered:

  • Two teams face off with each other. Each team divided into an offense and defense force.
  • Offensive force is free to roam anywhere, while the defense force is restricted to an area around the pole.
  • Pole’s are around 3-5 meters in length (~ 10-16 feet).
  • One end of the pole must be in contact of the ground at all times.
  • Game ends when the angle of the pole relative to the ground reaches to the predetermined angle. Typically, 30 degrees off the ground.
  • Due to the aggressiveness, footwear is banned (Did you see the guy get stomped in the face in the YouTube video? Ouch…or should I say stinky?)
  • Head gear is also encouraged, to limit the effects of the concussion you’ll most like be getting.
  • Hand-to-hand combat is strong discouraged, but I suppose kicking is okay?

Photo Credit: Japan Ministry of Defense

Botaoshi is famously played during the National Defense Academy of Japan’s annual induction ceremony of new cadets. Every Spring, the school’s four battalions form teams of 150 students each to fight for their battalion’s honor in front of a crowd of peers and family.

Each of the battalion teams are split into a 75-person defense group and a 75-person offensive group. To distinguish the two, the defensive group’s are equipped with white garb, while the offensive groups wear their battalion colors (green, blue, red, and orange).

If you watch the video, it may at first seem to be an unorganized brawl to topple over the pole, but I assure you there is some strategy to the game. Within each offensive and defensive groups, each person has a role to play out.

Within the defensive group, there exists five important roles:

  • Pole support — These people support the pole to the upright position.
  • Barrier — The hoards of people that form a barricade around the pole.
  • Interference — Harasses and interrupts any opposing force that makes it inside the barrier.
  • Scrum Disabler — Scrum is the offensive force’s defensive formation that allows the offensive set up “spring-board humans” to “fly” above the barricade. Take notice in the video where the some of the offensive bend over and allow their backs to be used as a stepping ground for their teammates. The disabler does whatever it can to hinder the formation and stop the offensive from spring-boarding straight to the pole.
  • The Ninja (aka Ezio) — This is the person that is standing on the pole and drop kicking anyone’s face that gets near it. Probably one of the most important roles in the defense line up. If the pole is shifting to one side, it is their responsibility to counter the shifting by directing their weight to the opposite side. It doesn’t take much weight to topple over the pole if the offense controls the top of the pole.

As for the offensive group, three important roles exists:

  • Springboard/Scrum — Act as stepping blocks for teammates to launch themselves over barricade and straight to pole.
  • Pole Attackers — Attack and take over the pole from Mr. Ezio. Responsible for starting the collapse of the pole by using their weight and gravity on the top end of the pole.
  • General support attacks — Harassment, distraction, etc.
Now that you have the general gist of the concept, it’s time to advocate change! March over to your school’s physical education department and demand kick ball be replaced with botaoshi!

Header Photo Credit: 3yrsinjapan

  • mark

    Seen this before, and I found it really fun to watch :D Thanks for reminding me of its existence

  • Ko

    I’m pretty sure you just found the only sport I’ll ever be interested in. That looks like MASSIVE amounts of fun omg

  • koichi

    I want to be the dude at the top of the 棒. Looks like that’s where all the action’s at.

  • Ko

    Look at him stomping on people’s faces…that’s fantastic.

  • Joe

    is there any way for the defensive team to win?

  • x_stei

    That actually looks fun to play. Keyword here is looks. I doubt I’d actually enjoy playing that though.

    Nice post! I really enjoyed it.

  • Heather

    I can only say after watching these videos is that I hope some of these guys know good dentists…

  • Viet

    I suppose I wasn’t clear in my post :(

    Each team has their own pole they must defend. Whichever team knocks over the opposing team’s pole wins.

  • Peter

    ‘Perpendicular’ means the angle is 90°. I expect the poles are perpendicular before the game begins.

  • Viet


    Yeah, definitely not the appropriate word to describe what I was conveying in the sentence. Fixed.

  • koichi


  • Kamizushi Akinari

    I do not want to play this sport. :-/

  • ZXNova

    Looks soooo fun. I’d wanna play this. 

  • koichi


  • Jade

    I love it!!! I would be so enthusiastic the first time, run like a super saiyan on the heads of the defending team. But when I receive the first kick … I’d cry and scream it’s a moronic sport hahaha. Still very funny to watch! 

  • Riechan

    this looks fun to watch!! not to play, I hate to have someones feet in my eye…

  • Paladin341

    This… is…. AMAZING! Awesome post/find Viet!

  • Michael

    Yeah, probably the person holding the camera only showed one side of the game, or one pole.

  • Jateku

    I would so do that!
    Ware do I sign up? xD

  • Jateku

    That works so well!
    Can you imagine all of them with that face running at the other pole and singing that…NONSENSE!
    This is madness…No..THIS…IS…SPARTA!!!!!

  • Jateku

    It’s like extreme capture the flag or capture the ninja on top of the flag. xD

  • Davey Stokhof

    Wow, thanks for sharing this with us! I might write something about it on and link it back to you!!!