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Slurp stream: Records devoured at annual wanko soba eating contest in north Japan

Groups of adults are seen foisting streams of soba down during the 34th all Japan wanko soba championship, at the Hotel Shi-on in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, on Nov. 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Maika Hyuga)

MORIOKA -- The capital of Iwate Prefecture in northeastern Japan hosted the 34th all Japan wanko soba championship on Nov. 17, a competitive eating competition to see who can consume the most of the region's famous dish in a short time limit.

The event was held at the Hotel Shi-on in Morioka's Tsunagi district, with around 80 people from in and out of the prefecture taking the challenge. The hall where the contest took place rang with the sound of people furiously slurping down as many buckwheat noodles as they could. The noodles are served in small bowls.

First held in 1986, this year's event was split into three categories: a group round, which has a children's and general contenders' competition, and the individual round. The individual contest has a 15-minute time limit, whereas the group stage is six minutes, with three people afforded two minutes each.

Ryoka Nakamura, an 11-year-old sixth-grader at Kawai Elementary School in the nearby city of Miyako, entered into the group contest with friends from an abacus school. When the signal came for them to start, they wolfed down soba with gusto. The team ended up winning, having polished off 101 bowls in total. Nakamura said with satisfaction, "It was hard when we were doing it, but I'm happy because we ate more than last year."

A child is seen competing at the 34th all Japan wanko soba championship, their empty plates piled beside them, at the Hotel Shi-on in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, on Nov. 17, 2019. (Mainichi/Maika Hyuga)

Yasuhiro Sato, a 47-year-old local firefighter, competed in the general group competition with members of Morioka Fire Department's main branch. This year they won the competition for the fourth consecutive time.

"The key to winning is not stopping the rhythm of the person serving you. By winning, we also wanted to pass on a message reminding people to be mindful of fires," he said.

The final event was the individual contest, which attracts competitive eaters. The sound of empty bowls being slopped on top of one another came at a faster pace than in the previous rounds, and as the time passed the contenders' expressions grew increasingly bleak. Shouts and applause of encouragement could be heard coming from the audience.

The winner was "MAX Suzuki," a competitive eater who has form winning TV eating contests and who is also active on YouTube. Aged 39 and a resident of Ota Ward in Tokyo, his real name is Takamasa Suzuki.

Suzuki was given a 5-minute handicap this time for winning the contest last year, but even so he chomped to victory with a record 451 bowls in 10 minutes. "I enjoyed it, but I stopped a little during the second half, so I think I can take it even further still. I want to come back next year," he said, nursing his swollen belly.

(Japanese original by Maika Hyuga, Morioka Bureau)

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