Steve and Rachel are returning from Montreal to the UK via Japan and China.
You can follow their progress here... 

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

12:45 PM - Sumo wrestling - Rachel

Yesterday we wandered out to explore some of the parts of Tokyo that we missed first time round. We were headed for the sumo stadium and the Edo-Tokyo museum. One of the national sumo tournaments is currently running in the stadium, so we went to check out the ticket situation. We had just decided that we didn't understand the ticket board, but guessed it was more expensive than we wanted to pay, when suddenly this guy approached us. He was distinguished looking, casually dressed. He offered us two of his tickets for the day! We were speechless. Of course, we accepted with all the japanese we could muster - "domo arigato". We followed him through the gate, then into the stadium, a one storey square building. On the way in, he stopped with us in front of a sort of shop, and they gave him a large paper bag containing wrapped packages. He spoke to them some more and a guy went off and came back with the program and a booklet explaining sumo, all in english. What service! We entered the arena itself. It is a large square room with tiered levels on all 4 sides leading down to the central ring or dohyo. Although the balcony has normal chairs in rows, the tiered levels contain boxed-off squares containing 4 cushions, sort of the equivalent of a box I guess. It turned out that this guy was letting us share his 'box' with him. Awesome!

Now to the sumo. It used to be a religious ritual (which mystifies me). The dohyo is considered sacred, and has a sort of temple roof suspended above it. For each fight, a guy enters the ring with a fan and sings something at the two opponents. He leaves and they then enter the ring, bow to each other, go to a 'corner' of the ring, and start doing the ritual squats and stretches. One guy even did a vertical splits, received with cheers by the crowd. The opponents then return to face each other at two lines in the center of the ring. There follows more stretching, and much glaring at each other. Eventually they squat down, then lunge at each other and the wrestling starts. Its really not attractive to see 2 very large guys giving each other wedgies with large silk nappies while trying to throw each other out of the ring. We thought we might get bored after a while, but the day builds towards the last match where the champion guy fights his match.

The first guys we watched were low ranking. Their 'nappies' (mawaki) were made of wool instead of the silk of the higher ranks, and their rituals were shorter. Also, they had simple top knots or no top knots, whereas the higher ranks wear their hair all carefully slicked up into top knots held by several bands. They were reffed by lower refs, who have bare feet and 'low colours' on their reffing fans! Next, the second highest ranking group came out. They arrived wearing a sort of highly embroidered mat tucked into their waistband, to create a sort of skirt effect (well at the front - still the thong look at the back). They are announced into the ring and walk round until they are all standing shoulder to shoulder facing out towards the crowd. They then turn inwards, bow, clap, hitch their 'skirts', then walk back out. Their matches involve much longer posing and stretching and psyching. Also they ritually rinse their mouth with water, wipe their face with paper towel, and throw a handful of salt into the ring, all purification rituals. Their refs have socks and sandals as well as 'high rank' colours on their fans.

The fights themselves were very short. The longest bout must have lasted 30 sec, maybe 1min. So that's 4 min posing, 30sec fight. But it's all a good show. Some fights were very dramatic, with both wrestlers throwing each other out of the ring, almost landing on a judge. Others were ridiculously fast, where one guy managed to side step his opponents first lunge and send the guy sprawling (the one who touches the floor with anything other than feet, or who touches outside the ring loses).

When the highest category wrestlers arrived, our host said he was just going to exchange the food bag. We'd only eaten 3 of the many packages so I assumed he'd gone to get some fresh food. He returned carrying 4 bags! he gave us one each and explained that it's all included in the ticket price. Well it was like Christmas sitting with a bag of packages next to me, and not opening them. So I gave into curiosity and unwrapped them all! There were boxes of chestnuts, dried fruit, chicken skewers, japanese sweets, random snack packs, and a set of two ceramic bowls. Wow!

We stayed til the end of the day's tournament - 6pm, then thanked our host profusely and headed back to the hostel with our bags of goodies. So that was dinner taken care of. What an amazing and lucky day!


Andy said...

Hi there, Andy again. Great to hear more of your travels to China and getting into the sumo was a (lucky) result, didnt you think the day flies by, even if each bout takes a few seconds? And the fat men smell so sweet!

I asked a few friends in Japan about the hat burning and here are their replies:

"sorry , I can't explain why monks doing that. I've never seen and heard that before !"

"About your question, I'm sorry but I don't know exactly. The temple seemd to have an event. Accoding to the singboard written in kanji, it says if we visit the temple on that day, it is same as that we visit 99000 days. Visiting temple and praying a lot is a good thing, so we can have more happiness.
We usually present somthing to temple(or the god) and sometimes burn it. I don't know why they use hats."

So despite not knowing why they were burning the hats you got yourself a decent wedge of luck!


Steve + Rachel said...

Thanks for that Andy. Guess it'll remain a mystery. We couldn't find any answers anywhere either. The sumo was great - one sport I can watch without feeling like a lazy slob. You certainly get an unique insight into the sport watching it live.

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