Why I Love… Japan. A Sumo-sized adventure in the Japanese capital.
The Sumo Stars Align
Way back in May 2010, my wife Jenny & I took advantage of a seat sale to Japan, with first stop—Tokyo. By chance, a rare Sumo Grand Tournament was taking place that week. I hurried online to grab tickets. Wouldn’t miss this for the world!
Sumo is a Japanese martial art that goes back centuries. Wrestlers (rikishi) mostly live and train in communal sumo stables. They cohere to strict traditions, especially diet and dress. Want to bulk up like these 600 pound behemoths? Start with a 20,000 (yes, 20,000) calorie daily diet consisting of (but not limited to) a dozen pints of beer and half a rice field . Added to the regimen: an afternoon fat-guy nap to slow down the metabolism.
Rumble in Ryogoku
The sumo spectacle is held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium. Our seats nearly overlook the second tier and provide a bird’s eye view of the square slab ring. No popcorn and sodas here – we’re Bento Box snacking. A chilled fried egg, sticky rice with an assortment of tiny veggies, meats and sweets. Don’t forget the chopsticks!
Heavy on Ceremony
Before the action, all the wrestlers circle around the referee for the ring entering ceremony. Clap hands together, raise right hand, lift the decorative aprons, and finish raising both hands in unison. This goes back to samurai days and shows that no one is armed. The rules of a sumo match are simple – push your opponent out of the white circle or throw them to the ground. But the wresters can’t go at it yet. More ceremony! The two opponents face each other from across the ring, slapping their beefy thighs and stomping down their tree trunk legs as salt is tossed around the ring for purification.
After the slap-and-salt fest, the rikishi crouch low, ready to charge! The ref’s in position, the audience waits in hushed anticipation, and … the two behemoths slap their way back to their corners for another salt cleanse as the crowd goes wild . This happens several more times until the two Japanese bulls finally lock horns.
It’s on – but in most matches, blink and you’ll miss it. One exception is a veritable ironman bout that lasts over a minute. Mostly it’s a stalemate – a classic paradox where an “unstoppable force meets an unmovable object.” One wrestler slips up and is pushed backward, but is this just a clever tactic? Using the charging momentum against his opponent, the victor hip tosses him out of the ring.
Get Out There!
This is why I love Japan – seeing their most treasured sport first-hand with thousands of other wild spectators, followed by a Sumo wrestler photo op.
Thanks for reading. Get out there and have fun!