Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament

By: leelefever on May 8, 2006 - 5:56am


Sumo wrestling is a truly Japanese affair dating back some 1500 years.  According to our handy sumo pamphlet that we received at the first day of the Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament, it started as a religious activity dedicated to the gods with prayers for a bountiful harvest.  The Sumo practiced today is heavily influenced by ancient tradition and ceremony.  In fact, it sometimes seems like a ceremony where wrestling suddenly breaks out.

Most impressive for me was the sheer size of the wrestlers.  I swear one of their legs weighs more than me.  Yet, they move surprisingly quickly. There are no weight limits, so wrestlers of very different sizes may face off making for a battle of speed over brawn. Some of the biggest are actually white guys from Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.  One of them, Kotooshu, is a contender for becoming a yokozuna- the coveted position of highest rank.

Each match, particularly in the more competitive classes, is a dramatic event with the wrestlers facing off, kicking their feet high in the air, stomping down and then stepping away, as if the moment was just not right (the shikiri).  They go to their corners, drink water, wipe sweat and slap themselves before then next face off. 


Once both wrestlers are ready, they come together (the tachi-ai) in what sometimes looks like a slapping contest, each defending himself by pushing away the upper body of the other, who is often trying to reach for his mawashi (the only clothing- a silk loincloth).  There are 82 winning tricks and most involve gripping and leveraging the mawashi.  The contest is decided when a wrestler (rishiki) falls down in the circular ring (dohyo) or is forced outside it.  Most matches are over in a matter of seconds and ends the day for both wrestlers (one day of 15 in a grand tournament).

The tournament is an all day affair, but the action really happens between 4-6pm.  At the Ryogoku Kokugikan Arena, spectators can rent FM radios and hear announcers in English for a deposit of 2000 yen.  We liked the insight, but you had to deal with overt cheesiness on the behalf of the American announcer who would say things like “Whoa! get out the maple syrup!  He made a pancake with that move!” <groan>.

All in all, a great Japanese experience. Anyone visiting Tokyo should try to make a day of a tournament. Our mid-range tickets cost about US$75 per person.

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