Last weekend, Mikata, a sleepy hot spring resort town of 7,000 in Hyogo Prefecture, held the world’s oldest Hide and Seek Championship.
“We thought that by getting the whole town involved in a game of hide and seek, we could get tourists to come here and get a close look at what we’ve got to offer while they searched for the people who were hidden away. It was an event designed to get people to know about our hot spring areas,” a spokesman from the Mikata Municipal Government tourism section. “The rules have 100 townspeople hide and the tourists get points for finding them. Points are also awarded for degree of difficulty decided by the hiding spot. Winners up until now have won prizes like overseas trips.”
Since holding the inaugural hide and seek championship in October 2000, organizers have been plagued by an unexpected problem.
“Groups of university students calling themselves ‘hide-and-seek alumni’ have joined in and an event that was supposed to let tourists take a leisurely stroll around the town has suddenly become a sport where competition is intense,” a municipal government source says. “The students come here every year and take a win-at-any-cost approach to finding the hiding spots. Tourists coming to look around the town haven’t got a chance.”
Parents of young children who travel to Mikata for the event have complained bitterly about the students’ serious approach to hide and seek, calling them immature and accusing them of spoiling the fun for little kids. But the protests have fallen on deaf ears.
“We know we’re being immature, but we see ourselves as professional hide and seekers. As professional hide and seekers, we can’t be expected to lose,” the head of the hide-and-seek club at posh Waseda University.
Doshisha University’s hide and seek club boss concurs: “I don’t know whether organizers are concerned about us, or what, but they’ve started changing the rules, like saying you’re only allowed to find one hidden person each, or using a lottery to decide who wins. We want to search around the town as much as possible, but these rules only spoil things.”
To counter the clash, town officials came up with the All-Japan Student Versus Adult Hide and Seek Championship held on a wild strip of land dotted with hiding spots in a secluded part of Mikata. It was a roaring success, luring 12 entrants, including the victorious Waseda University Hide and Seek Alumni Association, an organization celebrating its fifth year in existence.
“We have made this group an alumni association so that graduates can take part, too. We currently have 150 members,” the club’s chairman says. “I had to laugh the day we practiced in a department store. We were looking here, there and everywhere to find people inside the store when suddenly an announcement came over the loudspeaker system warning shoppers to be aware for the group of pickpockets believed to be active there that day. It was us.” Mikata officials were delighted.
“It’s our dream to have hide and seek included as an Olympic sport, probably in the Olympiad after the Games following Beijing. Our town has already set up the Japan Hide and Seek Association.”