London, June 5 : Two people enter the ring, the bell goes and they start fighting it out - not with fists and blows, but with fairytales, mini-dramas, poems. Welcome to Japan's annual poetry boxing tournament, a decade-old competition that pits opponents against each other in a ring armed with motor mouths instead of flying fists.
Currently, regional heats are under way in the sport that Katsunori Kusunoki dreamed up to combat the shyness and reluctance to participate that he has increasingly noticed in his students at Kanto Gakuin University.
"In Japan, young people especially find it very hard to communicate or express themselves, so I wanted to give them an opportunity to find their voices," the Telegraph quoted him, as saying.
"Japan has a long tradition of poetry and I thought that it would be more interesting to turn the event into a 'battle' in a ring," he added. The next series of bouts are scheduled for June 7 in Yokohama, with 200 verbal combatants vying to move on to regional finals and, eventually, the national finals in November.
Fights pit two boxers against each other, reading their own poems inside a ring complete with red and blue corners.
The subject matter varies wildly - from politics through critiques of celebrities, food and the unfairness of life as a student - and after each boxer's three minutes are up a seven-strong panel of judges votes on the winner.
Combatants are permitted to use props, but those that score the highest rely on their words, voice and delivery, Kusunoki said.
In the final round of a tournament, the remaining contestants are required to improvise a poem thrown at them by one of the judges.
The first winner of the Poetry Boxing Lightweight division, Mariko Wakabayashi, 17, thought up a poem incorporating the word "butter" in a matter of moments.
The competitors come from all walks of Japanese life and all age groups.