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Today I learnt that "bald tug of war championship" was a thing in Japan, and came across some weird kana that I can't figure out (in the top left corner, underlined in red) :

weird kanas

Is it simply しい ? That's what seems the most likely to me, but I'm not a hundred percent convinced. Could it by any chance contain one of the "kana iteration marks" ?

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Yes, it is しい. There is a bit of a play-on-words happening here.

[禿]{は}げ means "bald(ness)", but is being written in katakana on the top line (ハゲ[頭]{あたま}). The entire bottom row says ハゲ〜しい[熱戦]{ねっ・せん}. Here, the しい is being used in conjunction with ハゲ (written in katakana) to represent the adjective [激]{はげ}しい, which means "intense" or "fierce". So 激しい熱戦 is like "fierce contest/competition". Also note the elongation mark used for some emphasis.

So they're making a connection between the baldness and the intensity of the competition by writing ハゲ in katakana in both spots. However, the しい is still written in hiragana to make it obvious that it's 激しい. I suppose they could have written it all in katakana as ハゲシイ, but then it might not be as obvious and the meaning could have been lost.

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    So that was just "しい", thank you for answering! I tried researching it but definitely didn't think there could be a pun with ハゲ. It all makes sense now, thank you very much! – Pacific Nov 19 '18 at 19:38

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