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It's time for sumo!!

JAPAN | Friday, 27 March 2009 | Views [2459]

The maku-uchi rikishi before their sumo bouts.

The maku-uchi rikishi before their sumo bouts.

Sumo season is here in Osaka and with it comes bustling crowds of people in an already bustling part of a busy city (Namba). This is probably the strangest time for a foreigner to live in Osaka because not only are you repeatedly mistaken for a tourist (sorry guys, not at the moment) but seeing rikishi, wrestlers, walking around in very much the same way they would have centuries ago is rather awe-inspiring and inspirational – until you see an iPod hidden in the voluminous folds of their kimonos with headphones trailing up into their ears. It makes you wonder exactly what kind of music they listen to… Somehow I doubt that it’s traditional koto or shamisen music.

 

While I was in Osaka for last year’s sumo bout I never found the time to attend the event until this year rolled around and I cleared time for a day of sumo-watching, which was well worth it, if a long day for me.

 

I rolled out of bed at 6:15 am to meet with my friends at 7am so we could get in line for the cheap ¥2000 (~$20) standing room tickets which start selling at 8am and end rather quickly after that. Tickets in hand we meandered to the nearest Starbucks for breakfast but falling asleep over that we convened until the afternoon to catch some much needed shut-eye, missing the beginning bouts of sumo that started sometime after 10am. Since it was early in the day the lower-ranking rikishi were fighting so at that point sleep was higher on our priority list than low-ranking rikishi, sad to say.

 

We reconvened at 1pm for some delicious okonomiyaki, one of Osaka’s specialty foods, hit up a conbini (convenience store) for some beer and sakura-flavored chi-hi, and headed to the gymnasium to look around. Settling into some far away seats we chatted while checking out some of the mid-ranking rikishi go at each other, trying to throw, shove, pummel, or by any other means push their opponent outside the ring.

 

As the day wore on more and more people showed up and by 4pm the gymnasium was rather packed since the high-ranking rikishi (called maku-uchi) would start having their bouts soon. The order of the maku-uchi is yokozuna (top ranking), ozeki, sekiwake, komusubi, and finally maegashira. More pushing, shoving, and falling ensued and finally the last two rounds came up: Kotooshu (ozeki) versus Hakuho (one of the reigning yokozuna) and Asashoryo (the other reigning yokozuna) versus Kaio (ozeki). By this point a lot of alcohol has been consumed and the audience is avidly watching the performance which involves lots of salt-throwing, clapping, stamping of feet, and squatting to the ground to get psyched up before finally pummeling into each other forcefully. The one thing to be said about sumo is that there is a lot of grand-standing with clapping and stomping and re-purifying the ring with salt many times until the wrestlers feel psyched up (if this happens too much then the alcohol-laden audience starts cheering wildly and the bout starts soon after). So after minutes of this the fighters rush towards each other, grabbing each others waist band, to then try and topple each other in a fight that usually last anywhere from a few seconds to almost a minute.

 

As to be expected, both yokozunas won their matching giving Asashoryu a total of 2 loses and 11 wins and Hakuho with a total of no loses and 13 wins(!). Wow, it makes sense that they’re reigning champions then, doesn’t it?

 

There are 2 more days of sumo, 15 days in total, so if you want to go to sumo you better hurry up and get a Sunday ticket, wake up super early on Saturday for a standing room ticket, or just check them out when they’re in Nagoya, Kyushu, or Tokyo.

 

More info can be found at the sumo website here: http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

 

Hope that helps and if you have a chance, do check out a sumo tournament – they’re nothing like what you can find elsewhere in the world, as it is steeped in layers of Japanese traditional culture.

 

Enjoy the intense grappling and the tiny bits of colorful thong-like clothing. You won’t find it anywhere else in the world!

Tags: culture, japan, osaka, spring, sumo, tradition

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