The Interesting Game of Yukigassen

Nowadays, you can find many new and unusual sports being played in different parts of the world. Of course, the more popular sports like American football, basketball, soccer, and tennis are known to the world but the sports being pertained to here are the likes of dodgeball and squash which are games that you may not even know about if you don’t ask around or do some digging yourself. In Japan, there is a sport that fits this criterion of games and it is slowly gaining the attention of people on a global scale. People from Finland, Russia, Alaska, Sweden, as well as Canada are getting into this unique sport that is known as Yukigassen.

By dbking (originally posted to Flickr as _MG_7989) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Japan’s Yukigassen History and Its Progression to the Year 2018

If you cannot speak or read the Japanese language, you might think of the Yukigassen as some extreme sport because of its exotic ring to it. The term “Yuki” actually stands for “snow” while the term “gassen” stands for “battle”. If you want to be strict with translations, the term “gassen” should actually be “Kassen” but due to rendaku, which is somewhat a rule in the Japanese language to put it simply, "k" turns into a "g". Regardless of this minor detail, this game is all about snowball fighting.

Again, don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this sport because it was only made into an official sport in the recent decades. It all started in the year of 1987, particularly in the month of August, when the youth from different administrations like commerce, tourism, agriculture, and public service came together to create a way to maximize areas with a lot of snow. Back then, it might have been a playful suggestion but in a matter of a year, the first Yukigassen Rules Committee was formed. This happened in the year of 1988 and it would also be later on in that year, specifically on December 6th, that the official set of rules for this sport was completed and submitted for documentation.

Things moved even quicker as in the year of 1989, the very first snowball maker and helmets for competitions were made. Since the gears were ready, they decided to host the first annual Showa Shinzan International Yukigassen on the 25th and 26th day of February that same year. 70 teams participated this and it opened a lot of eyes to the potential and excitement of this sport. The people liked it and so, in the year of 1991, the first ladies division tournament was held. These events got the ball rolling for this sport and the years that followed were filled with many more historic moments for this sport.

By the end of 1992, Australia had already hosted the very first Yukigassen event at outside of Japan. This out of the country event made it necessary to establish an official Japanese body for the sport which is why in the year of 1993, the Japan Yukigassen Alliance was founded. By the year of 1996, Finland took the big step of establishing the first Yukigassen organization outside of Japan. This motion was followed by Norway in the year of 1997, then Russia in the year of 2006, then Australia in the year of 2007, then Holland in the year of 2008, then Sweden in the year of 2009, as well as Canada and the USA in the year of 2011.  It was only a matter of time before an international organization was established and this is exactly what happened in the year of 2013 when the International Alliance of the Sports Yukigassen was founded.

The only time an annual event was canceled was in the year of 2008. It was supposed to be the 20th annual tournament but due to extremely bad weather, it became unsafe to play the sport. Aside from this incident, tournaments in Japan and around the globe have been happening on a very consistent basis. As long as there is snow, they can easily set up and play. In 2010, the sport took another big step because it was the year that it joined the 65th Winter National Sports Festival as an official event and because of this, there have been talks about it becoming an Olympic Winter Sport in the future. 2018 is actually another special year for this sport because it was when the pearl tournament was hosted. For those who aren’t familiar, pearl stands for 30 years so, in context, this year’s competition which was held on the 24th and 25th February this year would be the 30th successful annual tournament recorded.

The Rules of the Yukigassen

By Clemens Stockner [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Despite the fact that this sport has developed quite a bit since its establishment in the late 80’s, the official set of rules created from the beginning never really changed. That says a lot about the rule makes for this sport because that hardly ever happens in any sport. Somewhere along the line, there will be changes in the way a game is played but the rules for Yukigassen seem to be just perfect since it is untouched in a sense.

Before discussing any rules, you should first know that this is a game played by two teams composed of 7 players playing on each side of the field. Not only should there be 7 players on each team, there must also be at least 3 women playing on the field as well at all times. Each team is allowed to have 2 substitutes on their teams and there must be an appointed Captain on the said teams. In total, the maximum number of members for a team are 10 and that is inclusive of the subs as well as the Captain, who may also play as a player if he or she wishes.

To win a game, a team must win two sections of the game and in a game, there are usually 3 sections. In other words, as long as no ties occur, a game of Yukigassen will be a best of 3 showdowns between two teams. Each section only lasts for 3 minutes and a section is won through 1 of 2 ways. The first being that you eliminate all members of the enemy team by hitting them with a snowball. The second way is to capture their flag without getting hit by a snowball before your 3 minutes end. The field you play on is 40 meters long and there are objects places in certain areas of the field to serve as your cover during the game.

There is also a limit to the amount of snowball that a team can make use of in a section. Only 90 snowballs per team can be used per section or period. The teams must also create their snowballs during the allotted time prior to their match. This period of snowball making starts 30 minutes before the official start of the match but the teams are only allowed to use 15 minutes of that 30 minutes to create their snowballs. All snowballs used in a period come from what they refer to as the castle on the field. Each team has a castle on their respective side of the field and is usually located at the farthest end of their respective side. Note that all direct contact with a snowball means that you are eliminated from the game so even the passing of the snowballs must be done underhand or in a manner that doesn’t directly hit your teammate.

This game also takes the team registration very seriously. The team information must be given to the competition office 30 minutes before the beginning of a team’s first match. This allows them to prepare which members they will declare active for that specific tournament in case their team consists of more than 10 players. Should there be any inconsistency with the players on the field and the submitted list of players, the team with the penalty will instantly be thrown out of the tournament. Since only 7 players per team are needed to play the game and there are 10 players all in all that can be a part of that 7, you should know that substitutions may only happen in between periods or sections and not during one.

It was stated earlier that assuming there are no ties during the game, it should just be a best of 3 series between two teams. In the case that there are several ties, however, the approach then becomes very similar to a soccer match. Ties during periods can be considered as a point for both teams because if a team were to win the next round, the winning team would have already won the entire game because of the tie and their win. In the case of two consecutive ties, the third section will be the deciding one.

If even that the third period, both teams are tied, the game goes into a WT or winning throw. During this period, each team will select 5 members of their team in the sequence of a man and then a woman, and then a man, and so on and so forth until you make up the 5. These 5 will engage in an accuracy competition. An object will be placed on a platform and all participants will have a chance to hit it one at a time. The team with the most hits wins the game. On the chance that all players hit the target which will mean another tie for the game, the remaining 2 players from the 7 on the field will be the one to engage in the winning throw. If no victor still comes out of it and all players have taken their turn at the winning throw, only then will a player be allowed to repeat their chance at the winning throw. This portion goes on until a victor emerges and it can be the same thrower over and over again at this point in time.

These tournaments usually work like the super bowl. Once you get beaten, you are out and your opponent moves on to the next opponent. This cycle goes on repeat until the tournament reaches the final two teams and this can be considered as the championship of the tournament.

The Some Unique Prizes and Equipment Being Used In Yukigassen Like the Snowball Maker

By Kieran Hunt [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Like most sports, the team who wins the top 3 spots in a Yukigassen tournament will be given medals and recognition at the end of the competition. This may be enough for some people but if you just realized how tough it is to place in the top 3 in a tournament with more than 70 teams competing in it, you’ll be very happy to know that there are other prizes and recognition to be won at a tourney like this one. Unique to this sport is the recognition of the best dressed or best costume for a team as well as the best fair playing team. Although those recognitions do not weigh as much as a spot in the top 3, it is still better than going home with nothing at all.

Since there is an award for the best costume, you might have already deduced that teams can make their own uniform as long as all members are using the same one. These uniforms must also be tight or body-hugging to make it easier to discern if you actually got hit by the snowball or not. Shoes with metal spikes are not allowed to be used in this game but those with plastic spikes or rugged bases should be just fine, especially with the traction it offers you. Gloves are also part of the uniform as a form of protection as well because the snow may hand damage to your hands if it is constantly in contact with your bare skin. Since the costumes can be personalized, you can already guess that the flag can be as well. The only requirement for the team flag is that it be made of a fabric with the dimensions of 50 cm in height and 70 cm in length. The use of a helmet has already been mentioned above so that leaves the unique snowball maker used in the game of Yukigassen. A tray from the snowball maker makes it possible to create 45 identical snowballs measuring about 6.5 to 7 cm all in one go. In other words, two perfect runs on the snowball maker should give your team enough snowballs for one period already.

When talking about snow sports, snowboarding is usually the thing that comes to mind. Now that Yukigassen has been given attention and has been getting more and more attention throughout the years, do not be shocked if one day you wake up watching a game of it televised during the Winter Olympics. It is a simple and fun game that can teach people about working together and not letting gender be something that prevents people from playing a wonderful game. Since it is growing internationally, if you live in a place that has snow, you better start working on your throw to have the advantage should the time arise.