Sumo is rad! ‘nough said … Any sport that encourages its athletes to eat vast sums of rice and then sleep it off has my respect. So much about this ancient sport gets lost in translation and i’d though I’d clear some of it up. Below is my account of a day in the life of a westerner in the land of the rising sun trying to make sense of this ancient form of martial art.
Getting tickets to this event was pretty difficult but thanks to my friend Hiroyuki who helped me score a pair at a local market, I was able to take Jen and myself to the much anticipated Sumo event taking place one town over, in Beppu. There are four major tournaments that take place throughout the year and even though this was to be a smaller match, the results were equally important for the participants.
The event was taking place at a large modern venue named B-Con plaza and like its name would suggest, it caters to many conventions and business oriented activities. Well, this day was to be a business of a different sort. One of the first things we noticed when we entered the space, milling amongst the salary men and school children, were several enormous half naked Sumo wrestlers walking inside the lobby. This sight was unexpected and certainly threw Jen and I for a sec. Here’s a pic of one of the giants after a phone call to mom?
It was a shock to see an actual Sumo wrestler and double, to see a Sumo wrestler acting so normally … as in not standing inside an oval ring throwing his bones at another human being. As a matter of fact, I learned a lot about Sumo that day.
Sumo wrestlers are HUGE. Not only are they fat (yes yes everyone knows this part) but they are also broad and tall. Standing near these immense human beings it’s hard not to feel pitiful. They could flip you in a moment. On a personal note … seeing all that blubber around me reminded of the importance of routine cardio.
Sumo wrestlers come from all backgrounds. This I sort of new about from exhibitions held in San Francisco’s Japan Town Square, but it wasn’t until I attended an actual Sumo event that I quickly realized how diverse. First let’s start off with the Yokozuna, which in Sumo speak means champion. Currently there are three! Sometimes there are none. What’s my point … all three current Yokozuna’s are all from Mongolia. As a matter of fact, I learned that all the Yokozunas of the past 16 years have been from Mongolia. There were a few American wrestlers and even one from the country of Georgia. Of particular interest to me was the Egyptian wrestler Oosunaarashi, which means something like Arabian Wind. I had recently watched a documentary about him and his unlikely rise in the ranks. The movie must have been filmed a few years ago because at the time of the Beppu match, Oosunaarashi had climbed all the way to the third highest (of seven) rank. Unfortunately, the man was hurt that evening and wasn’t on the match card.
Sumo wrestlers like to hang out before their matches and are very accessible to spectators. At one point I decided to walk down from my perch in the middle rafters to the main floor to poke around (don’t forget to remove your shoes like I did) Before I knew it I was surrounded by six or seven Sumo wrestlers waiting to go on. What a thrill. Of course I snapped a few photos and what impressed me most was simply observing these gentle giants and their demeanor. They were just hanging out, goofing with each other, signing the occasional autograph, flirting with some girls on the first balcony, doing dorks like me a solid favor by taking a Sumo selfie… Then, after some time, they would be introduced to an enthusiastic crowd roar and then fight it out like the Sumo have done for over 2000 years, then exit the floor calm and casual. It was all so cool and I’ll never forget that moment.
Yokozuna is king ! See that big dude on the right…. That’s Hakuho, and he is the reigning Yokozuna. He’s flanked by two newer Yokuzuna but as far as I’m concerned, he is THE man. ……..
Yokozuna are the top Sumo at that time and their status has more to do with just wins vs. loses. They are expected to be a representative of their sport (the national sport of Japan no less) and are to carry themselves with poise and honor. There have been many pro Sumo to have earned the most wins without becoming Yokozuna … The Yokozuna must emulate Champion, on and off the mat … This is what makes them so special and revered by the public.
Sumo matches are an all day affair. Jen and I arrived at around 12:00 noon and didn’t leave until around 4pm. The event actually started at 8am but taking my fiend Hiroyuki’s advice, we didn’t arrive until later in the day when most of the upper level matches took place. In between different rank’s matches there were several exhibitions including a “Three Stooges” like match between two of the younger Sumo and even a display of how to fix up the Sumo hair stylings. There were even traditional songs sung by other participants and even the wrestlers themselves.
Individual matches are quick… some only last a few seconds while some matches between well balanced opponents can lasts more than a minute. The whole thing is like a firestorm of activity as both men ingnite their massive energies in a relatively short burst. It was so exciting to watch and each match was unique. This was certainly one of the more memorable days in Japan and a big shout if to Hiro for helping me score the tickets and to Jennifer for coming with me!