Grand Sumo Tournament

Watching live Sumo was on my list from before I arrived here. I read about how you could visit Sumo stables (yes, that’s really what they are called….) and observe morning practice sessions. But I also read that it was difficult to organise that as a non Japanese speaker. Then I found this website about the Grand Sumo Tournament taking place in Tokyo in January. Tickets could only be purchased from a month prior to the event. I put a note in my diary and about mid December I tried to get tickets. Just in time. Most days were already sold out but we managed to get two tickets for yesterday.

The tournament goes on for the whole day. But we decided we would go there at about 1pm.

Bildschirmfoto 2015-01-23 um 22.11.07The metro station close to the stadium “Ryōgoku” is already all about Sumo. There are huge pictures of famous sumo wrestlers. Hand prints of wrestlers to compare your hand size to them. Measurements on the wall how tall some of them are. You can stand in front of it and get a picture taken. A sumo ring depicted on the floor walking to the exit. A stone statue of two wrestlers in full fight with a shiny butt where all the people touched while walking by.

The stadium “Kokugikan” is located just next to the station. We first had to exchange our email confirmation to the actual tickets. Then we could enter. There were people everywhere but it wasn’t crowded yet and we didn’t have to queue to get it. It then took us some time and asking to find our seats.

There were already fights going on but the hall wasn’t full yet as it was “only” junior wrestlers fighting against each other. A bit after 2pm the professional wrestlers started fighting and then from about 4pm the top division wrestlers. By then the hall had filled up and there was a lot of yelling names of favourite wrestlers and cheering bursts. Very entertaining!

James had managed to rent a radio and we were able to listen to an English commentator. Also, the woman sitting next to me explained us a few little things from time to time. Still, we probably didn’t get many things that happened but it was so much fun anyway. Basically the tournament goes on for 15 days and each wrestler has one fight per day. Yesterday was day 12. Reaching at least 8 wins over these 15 days seems something important. Wrestlers having won their 8th or more fight would get a stash of something just before leaving the ring. I suppose it was money or at least a symbol for it. There was only one wrestlers – Hakuho – who had won all 11 fights up to yesterday and he also won the fight we watched. And I just checked, he also won the fight today. With this win he apparently surpassed the legendary winning record of Taiho from the seventies.

The first pictures show a fight when the hall was still quite empty. The seats on the ground floor are called “box seats”. They are basically just a pillow on the floor. Of course you’re much closer to the action but it would have been a pain and strain for our knees and backs. We prefered to have “chair seats” on the upper floor  :-)

In the ring you can see the two wrestlers and the referee in a wonderful green dress and sitting around the wrestlers being next to fight and 5 timekeepers (if I understood my neighbour right) dressed in black.

IMG_0635 IMG_0636 IMG_0637Between every fight, a man (not always the same) with a fan stepped into the ring and sang some ritual song while turning himself around. To me it sounded almost like a muezzin in an arabic country.

IMG_0642Then the next two wrestlers would step up and start their ritual. The introductory ritual with bowing, throwing salt into the sand, hitting themselves very hard and loud on the belly, the legs, the face (like bears showing their strength) mostly lasted longer than the fight itself.

IMG_0648Here the top ranking wrestler presented themselves to the spectators before their fights started. They all wore some sort of a “crested carpet” wrapped around their waist.


IMG_0649These are not other crests but displays of the sponsors of the wrestlers in the ring carried around once before their fight. I found that quite funny how they built the modern concept of sponsors into this ancient sequence of rituals. But who knows, maybe they always used to have sponsors. Then it used to be crests of protective families and now it’s flags of financing companies…

IMG_0676From time to time the ring was cleaned and made look neat again. Of course, this was also done very beautifully and ceremoniously.

IMG_0654 IMG_0662That was a fun afternoon and I would definitely go again. Next time however I would try to experience more what’s going on apart from the fights. At the south gate you can see the wrestlers enter the stadium. There are souvenir stalls, gift shops and an exhibition hall. And I saw a photo booth were your photos are printed next to a famous wrestler of your choice. Next time… :-)

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