• 21 . 07 . 05
  • A gaijin day out to the Nagoya Sumo Tournament, where we see large men with better acceleration than me slap each other silly.

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One of the most uniquely Japanese things you can think of is Sumo, but, beyond E. Honda, most Westerners, until recently me included, wouldn’t have a clue about it or any of the history that went with it. Luckily, you don’t have to know anything about it to find it entertaining, so today I added to my list of Japanese cultural experiences by going to watch the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament. I must admit that, having seen Sumo on TV occasionally, I wasn’t expecting too much. It’s a pretty slow TV spectator sport, with minutes of preparations followed by seconds of action. And that action doesn’t seem to breathtaking either. So, I was glad to find that TV does Sumo no justice at all, and that watching it live is really a great experience.

We arrived at the Gym at about 1pm, when the lower ranking Sumo did their battles to relatively small crowds. Although we paid for the cheapest seats available, ticket checking is non-existent, so in the earlier bouts we could sit really close to the ring with nobody bothering us. I think this is just expected practise, as when we were finally shifted, the man whose box we were sitting in wasn’t concerned at all and just gave us a smile. Luckily, this being a week day, the stadium wasn’t up to capacity (as lamented by Japanese friends who tell me that Sumo is a dying sport; if that’s true then it’s a great shame…) and we were able to find a box in the middle of the stand where we could spend the rest of the tournament. Handily, we were given a manual which explained to us in English a lot of the customs and ceremonies, which certainly helped our understanding.

The bouts themselves were actually quite exciting, especially as the day progressed and the big names started to enter the ring. The dignity with which they compose themselves is exemplary, and the respect they give the sport and the other competitors would be a fine example to many the overpaid prima donnas often found in western-dominated sports.

I also found that the build-up, which had seemed to take an eternity on TV, actually felt quite short. The preparations are unique to each wrestler and the anticipation really builds, culminating in a moment of silence before the initial clash. Which, incidentally, has to be seen to be believed. The speed of some of the wrestlers took me completely by surprise, having expected lethargic movement from such obese men. Yes, they are huge and some of them have too many bellies to count, but there must be a lot of muscle under there too.

There were no great shocks today. The Grand Yokozuna Asashoryu, fighting last, won again, having suffered a couple of surprise losses this week. A couple of matches did last a few minutes, mostly when the wrestlers were locked up, but there was plenty of excitement and ample opportunity to see huge men go flying into referees and nearby spectators when forced off-balance and off the stage. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I’m tempted to go again this year. There are 6 tournaments each year, and I’m not sure when or where the next one is, but if it’s possible it would be good to see it again.

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