Luckily, there is a fantastic website, tokyogaijins.com that organises events like sumo tournaments for 'gaijin' and Japanese alike. I was able to book a ticket quite easily for the final day of the sumo wrestling tournament in January of this year. I was very excited. The tournaments only occur six times per year, three of which are in Tokyo (January, May, September). The other tournaments take place in Osaka (March), nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November). Each tournament lasts for fifteen days but each fight only lasts for a few seconds.
On the day of the tournament, there was an air of excitement around Ryogoku Kokugikan, an area synonymous with sumo wrestling. It is here that the history of sumo is prevalent, a sport that dates back to ancient times, which was performed in front of Shinto gods as entertainment.
|In front of Ryogoku stadium - can you see me?|
|Inside Ryogoku stadium.|
There are many religious rituals that take place before, during and after a sumo wrestling event. Some of these include; wrestlers throwing salt onto the ring, the referee dressing as a Shinto priest, the mawashi (belly bands) and oicho (hairstyle) worn by sumo wrestlers are all essential parts of the event itself.
|Sweeping of the sand covered clay before each fight.|
Before the actual clash, the rituals continue. The two wrestlers face each other with their arms extended while they raise their legs and stamp their feet. They must also glare at their opponent at the same time. The actual fights only last a few seconds, although some can continue for a couple of minutes. The rituals take up a lot more time but it adds to the atmosphere and the build up in the arena.
What I was most surprised to discover was that there are no weight restrictions in sumo; you can be matched with someone two or three times the size of you. Hence, this explains why weight gain is such an essential part of sumo; a diet which is made up of vegetables, meat and fish. Around the arena, many restaurants cater especially for sumo wrestlers; with larger seats, bigger portions and McDonalds even provide a large free meal for the winner on the day.
Another interesting fact is that nowadays there are more and more non-Japanese taking part in sumo. Mongolians, Korean and on the day I went there was one guy from Croatia who was incredible.
|Croatia versus Japan - sumo wrestling.|
The rules of sumo are quite simple to follow - the first wrestler who touches the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet or the first wrestler to leave the circle, loses.
There is also a hierarchy in sumo wrestling. Once you reach a certain status you are expected to maintain it, otherwise you are expected to retire. Most wrestlers are at the top of their game between the ages of 20 and 35; they eat, breathe and sleep sumo in a life that is regimented from morning until night by their trainer.
At the end of the three hour tournament, the champion takes home this huge trophy. The performance at the end is quite special, it is very clear that all of the years of training have been worth it.
Like most sports, there are a lot of rules and rituals which are essential components of Sumo. The event was also much more exciting than I expected it to be; fights were quick but I was quite animated throughout, shouting out random Japanese names, cheering on the winner. The event was without a doubt traditional, special and most of all it reminded me of why I came to live in Japan in the first place. It was an amazing day, one which I will cherish for a long time to come.
Have you ever been to a sumo tournament? What do you think of sumo? Share your thoughts below.