Giant men - great tournament
Nagoya Travel Blog› entry 23 of 52 › view all entries
I get up early in the morning to go down to Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium - a big indoor arena next to the Nagoya Castle - and home to one of the six annual Grand Tournament of Sumo in Japan. Considering sumo is a national sport and this is the only one taking place in Nagoya I figure lots of people will go there - and tickets will likely be hard to come by. But when I get down to the ticket office to buy my same day admission ticket - there are virtually nobody there. And I can easily get my ticket just after the ticket counter opens at 8.
With my ticket in hand I get my first little surprise - I thought the matches wouldn’t start until the afternoon. But that’s not the case - it is only the best sumo's who will start their matches in the afternoon. The first fight with the junior sumo wrestlers will take place at 8.45 - hence you pretty much get 9 and a bit hours worth of sumo for the cheap same day admission ticket. I get in and I got no clue where my seat actually is located - but the same seem to hold truth for almost everybody else inside the arena - which is only a handful of Japanese and about a dozen westerners. I just crab a seat on one of the backbenches - but I guess I could have crawled down to the ring side without anybody taking much notice.
Then the first fight is ready to begin and the first sumo wrestlers approach the ring followed by a group of judges who will be sitting around the ring and decide what the verdict should be in case the chief judge would not know who won the match.
Fortunately the rules of sumo are pretty straightforward - so it is easy to follow the matches even if you don’t know much about sumo. Last man standing inside the ring wins. Pure and simple - if the other one touches the ground inside the ring with anything but his feet - he will lose - if he is forced outside the ring and touch the ground there - he will lose. I can follow these rules pretty easily. There are a bit more to the rules - like no hitting with fist and such - but I don’t really need to know much about this.
The sumos in these low ranks are not quite as huge as the sumo’s you might occasionally see on TV. Some of them are almost skinny and I probably outweigh several of them - considering they are not really tall. The amazing thing is that most of the times one of these skinny sumo’s are fighting against a much bigger sumo easily out weighing him one to two or sometimes even one to three - the tiny guy seems to win in most cases. So sumo is not just about sheer size and blunt force - there are actually also something to be gained by using superior technique or speed.
The games go on and I keep waiting for those precious moments when the wrestlers will get throughout of the ring and landing on top of one of the judges - and considering the number of matches it is hardly a surprise I get to witness this on a couple of occasions.
The games go on and I am starting to consider whether or not I should use my option of leaving the arena one time and then reenter later in the afternoon when the high ranking sumo’s will appear for the top matches.
I don’t really venture far from the arena - I pretty much just go next door to the Nagoya Castle - which is not actually the original castle because it was burned down during the second world war - but they have recreated the castle in its original shape and you can walk along the park to watch the reconstructed buildings. I walk around the castle gardens and look inside the museum for a while - but after a hour and a bit I start to think if I really want to look more on the castle or if I should go back inside the air-conditioned gymnasium next door and watch some more sumo.
The choice is not that hard in the end and I soon return for the tournament. Even though it is now almost two most of the seats inside the arena are still empty - people are not showing up for the early matches they wait until the big guns will start their battles.
The quality of the matches is actually really good and these matches are probably the best during the entire day. Especially one match is very good - it ends up with both sumos’ hitting the floor - and it is very difficult to tell which one of them actually went down first - and hence lost the match. So the judges enters the ring and they cannot decide who won the game - so they order a rematch - this is sumo - so there are no instant replay to determine the winner - if the 5 judges at the side of the ring cannot decide they just make a rematch. And the crowd is cheering for this decision - they are quite happy with the first match being tied. The rematch is somewhat of an anticlimax - after the first intense match this one is over quickly with one of the sumo’s being pushed out of the ring.
People have started to show up by now - and my lack of a formal seat number starts to be a slight inconvenience.
At 14.50 sharp the whole tournament take a new direction - now it is time for the big guns to show up - the juror division is about to start their matches - it is the second division. Before the matches these high ranking sumo’s walk into the ring in two groups first one from one entrance - they all wear an apron which is custom made for each individual sumo wrestler and cost around ½ million yen - or a bit over $5.000. They go up to the ring one by one - and their names are call out and then they slowly form a circle and face each other showing the empty hands in the air - and then they walk down from the ring again. This is repeated by the sumo’s coming in from the other entrance and they do the same ritual.
Then the matches can begin. But at this level of sumo wrestling a match don’t just start immediately. They will have to go through the same rituals as the lower level wrestlers - but they are also purifying themselves by drinking of ceremonial cup of water and drying themselves with a paper towel. Before the match they are blessing the ring by throwing salt into the ring before each match start. And the match will not start after the first time salt has been thrown - the sumo’s generally go to the starting position - but then one of them claims not to be ready and go out to get more salt to throw into the ring - then back to starting position - and the same or the other sumo claims he is not ready. Then back to the two corners - where they will dry themselves with a small cloth and throw more salt into the ring. This will go on for close to 3 minutes which is the maximum allowed for the juror division matches. Sometimes one of the sumo’s will pretend to be very annoyed about the break because he was ready for the fight - but his opponent were breaking it of - but it is all just part of the game.
After the juror division finish it is time for the main attraction of the top division of the sumos will start their matches now. They start by entering the ring as a group - just like the juror division did. But after they have entered the ring three special sumo’s will enter the ring - the one in the centre is a Yokozuna - grand champion - the highest possible rank a sumo wrestler can get. The Yokozuna performs a small ritual which is sort of a little dance and then he exit the ring. Then the same ritual is repeated by another Yokozuna who enter from the other side of the ring and do the same ritual for his team. Then the matches can begin. And now the sumo will have four minutes before they have to start a match - and they make full use of their four minutes before every match. And the games go on - at one stage the world’s greatest athlete enters the ring - and he is truly the world greatest athlete - I am sitting next to a couple of Americans and they claim he easily outweigh the heaviest offensive linemen in American football by 50 kilos and the smaller one by even more. No weightlifter or other sort of wrestler is close to his weight of somewhere over 200 kilos. Unfortunately for him - seize isn’t everything - he loses his match pretty quickly. One nice little feature before this match and several other of the top matches were the part of sponsors - a group of men go up in the ring with a few flags from different sponsors of the top sumo wrestlers and they walk one round in the ring and go down again. This is the only sort of commercial inside the arena.
One nice little feature with the top ranking sumos is the fact they got private pillows. Before the matches the sumos sit on a pillow next to the ring so there will be no waiting time before the next match starts. At the low level they all sat on the same pillow - but here at the top level they got their private pillows - I don’t know if they are custom built to accommodate an oversized sumo or something like that.
The climax of the tournament is the last two matches where the only two Yokozunas will fight. And I think they actually won their matches as should be expected. Then after the last match it is time for the last bit of ceremony - the bow dance where one of the sumos enter the ring and do a special dance with a bow. And with that the tournament comes to an end and people start to leave the arena. The attendants are quickly gathering all the pillows together and clean up the arena pretty fast.