Saturday, October 12, 2019

Adventure 29/50 : Sumo!

I confess -- when we were planning our trip to Japan and heard there would be a sumo tournament in Tokyo while we were there, I thought it would be funny to try and get tickets.

So -- much like I had made sure to get on line exactly when tickets went on sale for Takarazuka, I was ready to try and buy tickets for the sumo tournament.

And I got a pair with little effort. I say little effort because the site was in English and super easy to use. I happened to go back a few minutes later to look at seats again ... and it was sold out. Every day of the tournament. At least for the tickets available for overseas purchase.

We didn't really know what to expect -- each day of the tournament starts around 10am, and runs through about 6pm. We needed to pick up our tickets before 2pm, and had plans for the late morning, so we stopped by in the morning to pick them up. Getting off the train at Ryogoku station, it was obvious we were in the right place.

Portraits of former champions:

Handprints and signatures of top wrestlers:

A big lovely granite statue, rubbed smooth in all the places one would expect...

We walked to the front of the stadium and admired the flags in the front:

Indeed, all the tickets for the day were gone -- even the "standing room" tickets that go on sale at 8am.

Luckily, we had tickets and (after some panicky fat-fingering of the ticket code into a finicky touch screen machine) were able to pick them up.

A few hours later we returned to the venue ... we loved seeing the wrestlers arrive at the stadium. The lower ranks arrive on foot from their "stables" where they train and live, while others show up in taxis to great applause... but regardless they were required to arrive in traditional attire. Squee!

We headed into the venue, slightly overwhelmed. And then saw this:

Whaaaat? Sumo has a mascot???

We joined a small line for a photo op, chatting with another western couple. She came up with the phrase "sumo canary", which seems appropriate... 

All pumped up, we walked around for a bit, admiring the souvenir stands, the bento shop where you could get your favorite wrestler's favorite bento, and a table where a very large man motioned us over, handed us a poster for an upcoming tourmament, and pointed proudly at himself. "You?" I asked, and he nodded. 

We headed into the auditorium and -- with some help -- found our seats. Pretty grand:

The lower tiers are "boxes" where attendees sit or kneel on cushions. I had purposely not attempted to book those, and was happy to be on the upper level. You can tell by how empty it is that these are still the lower-level matches. 

Did I mention that one could buy custard-filled cakes shaped like the "sumo canary"? Well, one could. And this one did. 

We sat and watched the matches go on, thinking we'd wait the 2 hours until the entrance parade of the top-ranked fighters at 4, then watch one or two, and then head out.

But a funny thing happened. We started to really get into it.

As the crowds filled in, they also got noisier, and the cheering before, during, and after the matches  got more compelling. Not that the matches were very long ... there was more ceremony/prep than there was actually wrestling, in most cases.

First the wrestlers would come in, throwing salt to purify the ring. Maybe one would signify they were ready by squatting down... but it's clearly a pose. Look, the sweepers are still smoothing the area around the ring:

But then he might stand, and there might be a bit of stretching and posing, sometimes even stepping back out of the ring. Then they'd face each other again...

Then they would squat back down... as would the official. He's holding a paddle out to signify that all is ready when the wrestlers are...

And as soon as both wrestlers have their knuckles down on the floor at the same time, the match is on.

They wrestle back and forth, first one having the advantage:

And then the other:

It really looked as if the wrestler in green was done for!

But he held firm, and the wrestler in purple lost his balance...

... which allowed the wrestler in green to push him way back...

... and eventually out of the ring:

The official immediately signaled the win went to the left side:

And the winner stiffly walked out of the arena while the winner accepted his prize.

Soon it was time for the top division wrestlers.

A few minutes later the parade of the top-division wrestlers started, each of them arriving in their ceremonial aprons -- kesho mawashi. 

They were announced one by one, and walked around the ring:

They started by facing out to the arena -- the only time they actually do so.

Once gathered, they completed a blessing ceremony:

Before leaving, and the other half of the wrestlers coming in -- they're divided into 'East' and 'West' sets each day.

Then the current champion -- see his "thunder belt" -- came in, attended by two other wrestlers.

Then the top rank matches started, and the full stadium was noisy and excited. And we ended up watching all the matches. ALL THE MATCHES.

One match had a very strange thing happen... the wrestlers traded advantage back and forth, and to keep a watchful eye, the official moved around the ring quite a bit:

And then suddenly he tripped and couldn't catch himself... and launched himself out of the ring:

it all happened so quickly, the wrestlers just kept grappling. It's really hard to see, but the official has just landed in the aisle at the top left corner, and a few audience members are gaping open mouthed ... but the other officials haven't moved yet.

Within seconds, a different official stepped up onto the platform to finish out the match, and the first official was helped back to a position ringside. However -- with those robes on, he probably wasn't able to cushion his fall with his arms, and quite possibly landed directly on his head. We were wondering whether there's no "system" for an official leaving with an injury, because it must be so rare... so he had to just sit there feeling mortified and in great pain for the next hour or so. Hope he is okay...

We kept track of who won what, and made notes on the schedule... which helpfully was available in English!

At the end of the tournament, after the last match, the attendees throw their cushions into the ring, while the attendants calmly collect them.

On a more amusing point, we loved that some wrestlers had big fan bases, some of whom held up towels. We had a neighbor with an excellent camera who had a towel he held up when his wrestler, Asanoyama came out for his match.

Asanoyama Hideki was one of the big stars of the tournament. He is the wrestler who won the May tournament with a record of 12-3, also receiving special prizes for "Outstanding Achievement" and "Fighting Spirit" ... oh, and he won the inaugural President's Cup.

After the tournament was over, we asked if we could take a photo of the man holding up his towel, and he was super happy to oblige:

He asked us to hold the towel, too, so he could take our picture. Of course!

Of course, me might not have let us hold the towel if he knew I had chosen a different wrestler as my favorite:

ENHO! A big crowd favorite, he had won a technique prize in the July tournament and dozens of people had his towel and were chanting his name. What I liked about him is that he's not super big -- only 5'6"! -- and only 216 pounds. Most of the wrestlers are over six feet tall and over 300 pounds, but Enho uses his small size and quickness to pull the other wrestlers off balance. So I bought his hand towel (I didn't see the big ones, sadly)... along with a small charm, and other random things. Hello Kitty sumo socks? Of course! Sumo chopsticks? Well, duh! Pins and capsule toys from the "sumo canary" and his friends? Obviously...

Tomorrow's post will be for the stitch-a-long check-in ... so you get a little break from the Japan stories!

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