TOKYO - A team of women dressed as fish and half-a-dozen Harry Potter lookalikes were among those whose efforts ended in glorious failure at Japan's national hole-digging championships, organisers said on Monday.
A group of burly diggers from Saitama, north of Tokyo, took home the first prize of 100,000 yen (US$840) and a golden shovel after burrowing down a staggering 3.48 metres (11 ft 5 ins) in the allotted time of 30 minutes in Narita on Sunday.
The wooden spoon went to the "Red Lantern" B-team, whose official recorded depth was shallower than a worm's hole at just one centimetre (half an inch).
"That was probably because some teams were more interested in art than digging," tournament official Ai Okazaki told AFP.
"And other teams had kids with them who were just playing in the dirt, which could also have had an influence." The 15th edition of Japan's bizarre shovel-a-thon, which is open to fun diggers as well as ultra-serious competitors with clipboards and blueprints, attracted a record number of 305 teams.
Organisers now face the daunting task of filling in all the holes.
"It takes about a week for our staff to gradually refill the holes," said Okazaki, who revealed that the hole-digging championships were held at a Narita campsite, close to Tokyo International Airport, as a means to drum up business during the winter.
"It began as a way to attract people to the campsite during the off-season when it was not being used. It is cold of course, but the rain held off yesterday and when you're digging and moving, you work up a good sweat," Okazaki added.
Winning is not all that matters: The six young women from northern Japan who went to work with trowels and buckets while sporting fish-shaped headgear and called themselves "Team Salmon" swam away with the best costume prize.
But there was no magic for a group of six dressed as boy wizard Harry Potter, who returned to Yokohama with mud-spattered capes and wands and little else to show for their efforts.
But there was elation for a team from Hokkaido who sacrificed depth and a chance at victory by sculpting a giant hand creeping from their hole as if in some spooky homage to the horror movie "Ring", winning them the "humour prize."