May 26, 2013

Let's go to see sumo!

Yesterday was the day I had been looking forward to. Yes, it was my sumo day!

There are six tournaments a year, and three of them are held in Tokyo, in January, May and September. The other three take place in Osaka (in March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November), and each lasts 15 days. 

When they have a tournament in Tokyo, I go to seethe sumo usually on the 14th day. 

When I was young, I was not interested in those fat naked wrestlers at all. I didn't understand why people of older generations were so excited about such an ugly sport. 

But now I'm a big fan of sumo. For me it is not just a sport, but a cultural entertainment that brings me back to the Edo Period. If you are aged over 25 and plan to visit Japan, check the sumo schedule here . I'm sure you'll like it too!

The Tokyo tournament is held at Kokugikan, one minute walk from JR Ryogoku Station.
Address: 1-3-28 Yokoami Sumida-ku, Tokyo
tel: 03-3623-5111

Colorful banner flags with the names of wrestlers at the gate create festive atmosphere. 

Ukiyoe  (woodblock prints) images depicting the sumo of the Edo Period on the outside walls. 

Inside there are shops selling foods, drinks and sumo-related goods. 

This is the dohyo ring. It is considered sacred and women are not allowed to step on it.  

The hall opens at 8 a.m. and the matches of low ranked wrestlers start around 8:30 a.m. but I always arrive there between 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., because strong and popular wrestlers appear after 4:10 p.m. 

Arriving at 4 p.m. is too late though. I don't want to miss the Makuuchi Doryo-iri ceremony (photo above) that starts at 3:45 p.m., and I need to buy something to drink or go to bathroom before that.

The higher-ranked wrestlers wearing the apron-like kesho-mawashi step on the dohyo (ring), being introduced one by one to the spectators. The kesho-mawashi, made with 100 percent silk and embroidered with silver and gold threads, is extraordinarily expensive, from 1 million yen to 20 million yen depending on the designs. They are normally presents from the wrestler's sponsors or the fan clubs. 

At 4 p.m. Yokozuna dohyo-iri starts. Yokozuna, or the highest-ranked wrestlers, performs "shiko" or the action of rising a leg high in the air to the side and stomping back on the ground.

Shiko is a basic training for sumo wrestler to strengthen their legs, but it is also performed as a ritual to get rid of evil spirits from the ground.

The wrestler shown in the photo above is Harumafuji. There are only two yokozuna at this moment, Hakuho and Harumafuji, and both of them are Mongolians.

Sumo is a Japanese national sport with a long history, but contrary to its exclusive image,  the sumo world is very open. If you are strong, you can climb the success ladder, regardless of your race and nationality.

For example, two out of four Ozeki, the second-highest rank wrestlers, are foreigners, one Mongolian and the other Bulgarian.

The photos of the tournament champions are displayed high around the hall. Looking at the photos I realized Japanese wrestlers have not won the championship for such a long time.

There was a match between Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho and Japanese ozeki  Kisenosato yesterday. Both of them had no lost matches until yesterday and many Japanese spectators wanted to see Kisenosato to beat the great yokozuna Hakuho.

When they appeared on the ring, the hall was shaken with the shouts and clapping of excitement. I love Hakuho, but this time I called out "KISENOSATO!!!!"

This is the photo of nervous-looking Kisenossato ready for the match.

The flags men in kimono are holding up represent the prize money from sponsors. One flag is 60,000 yen, of which the Japan Sumo Association takes 5,000 yen and the winner takes the rest. For this match there were 17 sponsoring flags.

The result? Unfortunately Kisenosato lost. It was a good match, but Hakuho was too strong.

Sorry there's no photo of the match. I was too excited to take photos. If you are interested,  please see this Youtube video.

Usually you can buy the ticket of the day, but there were no tickets left when we arrived at the hall because of this match. The banners written "Thanks for the full house" were hanging from the ceiling.

Each tournament day ends with Yumitori-shiki, or a bow dance is performed by a sumo wrestler, usually not very famous.... 

Today's useful expression: とうじつけんは まだ ありますか。 Tojitsu-ken wa mada arimasuka?
(Do you still have tickets for today?) 

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