Thursday, March 25, 2010

The mighty sumo!

Staying in a temple with monks, check. Capsule hotel, check. Playing taiko drums, check. Sing karaoke badly, check. Sumo, oooh not yet!
Without further ado we bought tickets to the March leg of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grand Tournament in Osaka. Getting tickets is pretty easy in Japan if you speak Japanese but a bit of a challenge if you don't. The best way is to do what Maylee did to get ours. Turn up at a Circle C or other convenience store in Japan, point to thing that looks like a cash machine in the corner and say "Sumo, kippu hoshi onegai shimasu" and with any luck the lovely helpful people will come and press all the right buttons on the machine. We decided to spend a little extra on getting good tickets (arena S) at 8,500 yen, about £60 but worth it for the good view.

I had watched quite a few sumo matches on TV usually when I got home from work and loved them. They're crazy and only last a few seconds sometimes. To my surprise not all sumo wrestlers are actually Japanese, there's this white Estonian guy called Baruto who obviously stands out from the crowd and looks a bit odd wearing his mawashi (the silk padded g string looking thing that they all wear to hide their crown jewels)
Well what a FAB experience! We had really good seats considering its practically impossible to book them near the ringside (all reserved for VIPs) but we could see everything really well. The place had a great atmosphere, families and groups of friends who had booked the boxes (4 in a box) sat on floor cushions with bento boxes whilst waiters came along bringing them green tea.

We arrived around 3pm and watched a few juryo matches just to get us warmed up. Basically there's 2 professional ranks in sumo, the juryo (the lower) and the makuuchi (the top). We watched a few final juryo matches and then it was time for the Naka-iri which is basically the opening ceremony where all the wrestlers from the top league come on wearing these silk pieces that looked like aprons. (worth around £4k apparently) See photos above.
Next for the Yokozuna (横綱) ceremony, the yokozuna is the highest rank of sumo which I think is only held by one wrestler, currently its a fierce looking guy called Hakuhō Shō. The crowds went pretty wild when he came into the ring and he did this ritualistic dance accompanied with a sword bearer. See photo below.

Hakuho performing yokozuna ceremony

Next it was time for the makuuchi division matches. The rules are simple. The aim is to get your opponent either outside of the ring OR to touch any of the body parts (except for feet obviously) onto the floor inside the ring. The build up lasts longer than the actual battle but its just great!

They eye each other up, then split up and each throw salt into the ring (for purifying the area apparently) then re-position to stare each other out before they start. Then suddenly they charge, there's lots of skin slapping (or should I say fat slapping), shouts and clutching of the mawashis as they try and pull each other down.

Staring each other out

3,2,1 go!

....and the guy with the black mawashi wins!

Didn't have a clue where the scoring board was until we saw this tiny ancient looking hung up in the corner, yep this is the score board. The red dots are who won the match. Yep it took us a while especially nursing a hangover when everything takes just that little bit longer ; )

We did wonder how those mawashi stay on the wrestlers. The knot doesn't even look that tight at the back and sometimes they have so much front bottom fat hanging out that its amazing nothing else escapes...Oh and the non Japanese wrestlers were so hairy! Hairy backs, hair chests, hairy legs, yuk. Here is my fave wrestler, Baruto who is in the third highest rank, towering over the other wrestlers. He doesn't look like he belongs does he?

Once the matches were finished at 6pm they held a final bow ceremony took place but I felt pretty sorry for the rikishi wrestler who was perfoming it as everyone started to leave before he finished, how rude! The ceremony is centuries old, the bow represents the gratitude felt by the day's victors.

Time to go, thrilling afternoon, hangover cleared but not looking forward to the train ride back to Kanazawa! I filmed one below.

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