Pillow Fighting Isn't Just Child's Play, It's a Real Sport

All-Japan Pillow Fighting Championship
Team members in the All-Japan Pillow Fighting Championship fling their pillows at their opponents. Foreign Press Center Japan

Pillow fighting in its natural state is a manifestation of chaos, a safe-ish outlet for the homicidal aggression innate to most children. You grab the nearest pillow and whip it at the nearest body. There are no rules.

But pillow fighting has been appropriated by the over-12 set and consequently sprouted protocols. About half a century ago, in a fit of nostalgia for childhood violence, two local community groups in Sonoma, California, thought it would be hilarious to create a World Pillow Fighting Championship to raise money for charity. The concept appears to be straightforward — two people, armed with a pillow each, straddle a log suspended over mud and duke it out. The first person knocked off loses. There's an appealing simplicity to the thing: It's like a rodeo, you either win or you're muddy.


If high school students in Ito, Japan knew of Sonoma's pillow sport, it seems to have played zero role in the game they invented in 2013. Simultaneously theatrical and competitive, the All-Japan Pillow Fighting Championship consists of two teams of five players each side.

Before the match begins, all team members feign sleep beneath duvets on individual futons. When the referee blows the whistle, the players leap to their feet and scramble to the dividing line, grabbing a pillow as they go.

The pillows in this game, though, are flung, not swung. Any team member struck by a pillow is knocked out of play. A designated player can bring their duvet along and hold it up as a shield for teammates. A second player is appointed "king." When one team strikes the other's king, that team wins the match.

The pillows are not random items, but specially manufactured cushions that adhere to strict size and weight regulations. They're stuffed, not with feathers, but with latex to achieve the required heft and bounce. There are no age restrictions — the youngest player so far recorded was 9, the eldest 75.

Two one-minute matches make up a game. As a sport, it's speedy, zany and growing fast. No word yet on its Olympics prospects, but with skateboarding officially in, pillow fighting can't be far behind.