12 March 2007

Sumo A-Go-Go: A Tokyo Tintin Oriental Report

Way back, oh so many windchill warnings ago, in the magical happy time that was the full-frontal assault on sanity leading up to my Nippon departure, I went for a day of sumo at Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall with my friend Clarisol (pictured). Ever the diligent Asian informant, I had wanted to blogofy my experience at that time, but it all got lost in the maelstrom that is trans-continental moving madness. Nevertheless, in the spirit of better late than even later, I now bring you the next in the groundbreaking and thought-provoking series; Tokyo Tintin Oriental Reports — providing you all the answers you need to know, straight from the Frenchie-Cracker-Reverse-Banana’s mouth.

Professional Sumo tournaments take place six times a year; once each in Fukuoka , Osaka and Nagoya and thrice yearly in Tokyo. Each tournament lasts two weeks, and while fights generally last only a few seconds each, hundreds of fights happen over the course of each day, so you do get to pack in a lot of wholesome, flabby, loincloth sumo goodness. The day begins at 10am with the lowest divisions, and younger more inexperienced wrestlers squaring off first. Big name superstar wrestlers only take the ring around 4:30, with heaps of pomp and pageantry associated with the highest divisions. Mega-famous wrestlers like Hakukō, Asashōryū, and my personal favourite Kotoōshū (who is actually Bulgarian) are common household names and can earn millions of yen a month in salary, prize money and endorsement deals for everything from yogurht to Nissan cars. These are the guys that everyone packs in to see, and because of this, most people skip the all the junior division bouts and only start arriving around 4pm. That means that for most of the day you're free to sit in any open seat until the ticket-holder comes along. So for my 15$ general admission ticket I was able to sit ring-side for a while in seats that normally go for +500$. Even after playing some empty seat bingo later on as people starting filing in, I still ended up in a seat not that far from the ring.

While the whole production may seem a bit rediculous at times with the big men in small loincloths pushing each other around, it's actually quite easy to get caught up in the ritual and high drama. Since most matches are of the blink-and-you-miss-it variety, the whole production clips along at a good pace, aided no doubt in part by the many Asahis and Japanese snacks plied on you by the usherettes (who are actually old men wearing traditional clothes).

Sumo is also a very social event, making friends and chatting with the people in the seats around you, gossipping about the wrestlers performances and private lives. Even though my Japanese sumo-related vocabulary is rather lacking, I was able to learn from my neighbours, as they commended my language skills and showered us with cookies, that Asashōryū broke the mirrors off an opponent's car after losing an important bout to him. A rousing sumo time was had by all.

The only slight marr on the event –which actually quite surprised me– had to do with Bulgarian-born wrestler, Kotoōshū. He is a very talented wrestler and will likely make the title of yokozuna (the super-mega MVP of sumo-dom), but when he entered the ring for his bout, many people in the audience booed him. There had been no other booing whatsoever during the whole course of the day – I was totally taken off guard and not expecting that. I guess people are nervous that a freaded foreign devil might take the top title of Japan's national sport. Shortly before I left, the sumo association passed a regulation that said that each sumo stable could only have one foreign-born wrestler training there — and at the same time the passed a resolution to improve the international profile of sumo wrestling. Ah Japan, Land of a Thousand Contradictions!

1 comment:

Miss Ash said...

I did want to see some sumo action when i was in Japan but sadly missed it. I will have to live vicariously through you.