Japanese bullfights draw fans as corrida struggles

Mon Aug 2, 2010 7:29am EDT
 
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By Antoni Slodkowski

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - As two bulls crush their sweat-drenched bodies against each other with blood-shot eyes and foam dripping from their mouths, the referee shouts "draw" and the moment of truth comes for the Japanese "bull separators".

While the bloody Spanish corrida comes under scrutiny from animal rights activists and politicians, bullfighting in northern Japan is gaining popularity as fans cheer on both the bulls and the brave men who break up the match before the bulls get hurt.

Each match in "tsuno-tsuki", or bullfight, starts with 20 "seko" bull separators leading the animals on as they face off in a ring. But after just several minutes of muscle-straining and horn-goring, the referee ends the fight before any blood is shed.

The "seko" then showcase their skills as they catch the feisty beasts weighing over a tonne by their rear leg with a rope and separate them, often risking their lives.

"I can't imagine bloodshed in our ring," said Haruji Matsui, a bullfighting veteran from the tiny village of Yamakoshi in Niigata, northern Japan, as he sipped iced tea sitting among the bulls before the matches started.

"We grew up with them sharing the same earthen floor."

Older farmers in Yamakoshi speak fondly of the bulls, remembering the times when the animals were necessary to move supplies in winter and for help in the fields.

"We treat them like our children," said Fumihiro Aoki, an 80-year-old rice farmer, who started as a "seko" 65 years ago.   Continued...