Iwate's buckwheat noodle speed-eating contest held without COVID restrictions

Speed eaters in the northeastern Japanese prefecture of Iwate wolfed down buckwheat noodles during a competitive slurping contest. It was the first time in four years that the event was held without coronavirus-related restrictions.

The national championships took place in the city of Hanamaki on Sunday. One hundred and eighty contestants from across the country participated in the event.

The contest had three divisions -- the elementary school student category, the group category and the individual category.

Eating wanko-soba noodles in small bowls is a tradition in some parts of the prefecture, and bowls of the buckwheat noodles were prepared for the contest.

A man dressed in a sumo referee uniform kicked off each competition with a loud shout. Then, the participants tried to consume as many servings of the noodles as they could within limited time periods. Servers standing near the competitors quickly refilled each bowl.

Relatives and friends of the contestants, as well as other spectators, cheered enthusiastically. Onlookers in previous years were required to refrain from cheering to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

A fifth-grade participant said the noodles were delicious. But the student added that the noodles were hard to swallow because they were thicker than expected.

A spectator said the children who competed did very well. He said the contest will become more popular now that spectators can cheer for the competitors.