Sumo!

Sunday was the opening day of the 2012 Sumo Tournament, and I was eager to go see it live in person, especially since I heard the first day is a good one, and has a few extra ceremonies and things that you don’t get to see on regular days. Having almost no idea what to expect, I snapped up one of those six packs of Ebisu beer, some snacks, and headed for the station to meet a friend, not knowing that my friend would have the same idea and actually brought 2 more of the same six packs. 18 beers for 2 people! Hilarity ensured!

As soon as we stepped off the train, we saw Sumo wrestlers coming up the stairs as we were going down. Their hair stood out to me more than their size, and one had a fresh wound on his forehead. After goofing around at the tourist booths,

My most serious warrior face.

we headed for the stadium. There was almost no security or ushers, and we wandered around until a friendly man offered to help us find our seats (on the complete opposite side).

We were on the balcony level, and though we were pretty wedged in there, I was thankful to at least have a seat. The entire ground floor is just sitting on mats, which I’m sure Iwould have hated. We cracked open beers and began to pull out snacks, realizing we had a whole lot of squid! I don’t know why, but something about Sumo made me want to chow down. I also read that they sell Yakitori (grilled chicken) at the stadium, but by the time we got around to searching for it, it was all sold out. I noticed that nearly everyone around us had brought their own drinks and food with them. We had enough that we were able to share with the young Canadians sitting next to us.

Mmmmmmm...squid.

Who would have thought that innumerable pliés performed by corpulent men in diaper-y thongs would be entertaining?  I was worried I would find it incredibly boring for a number of reason. First, from the agenda, it looked like it would go on for over 4 hours. Second, there is a lot of build-up to the match, but then the matches are over in just a couple of seconds. For every 10 seconds of wrestling, they probably spend 5 minutes squatting, slapping their thighs, lifting one leg way up, wiping their faces and armpits, and walking around the ring. And don’t forget throwing salt! I expected this to bore me to tears. After all, I’m American – I like my sports with action!!!

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the ritual, and I found myself raptly watching the whole thing. The event is really obviously steeped in tradition, and I loved watching the announcer come out and chant between bouts. I loved the positioning and severity of the refs. I liked watching how each wrestler had a different style of squatting, a different body type, level of flexibily, and degree of zest with which he threw his salt. Sumo is also exciting since it’s not divided into weight classes. Sometimes a HUGE guy would go out there and battle a short little shrimpy guy, and usually the shrimp won!

Here’s the breakdown of a typical round. The two guys come out, then perform their little act. The guy in the blue robe is VERY serious and walks like a robot.

Then the wrestlers throw in their salt and square off:

After about 5 minutes of the ‘dance,’ they finally wrestle:

After one falls down or gets pushed out of the ring, the other is declared the winner:

Then the next guys come up and do it all again!

I was rooting for the guy closest to me every time, and that was a pretty good strategy. After it was over, I didn’t really have a clue who’d won or lost, but I felt I’d been properly entertained, and we also watched as they immediately turned the lights off and had the place pretty well cleaned out in about 5 mins. Here’s me with the emptying stadium:

It’s probably not something I’ll make a hobby of, but it was a really fun experience, and I’m so glad I went!

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