Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sumo Shufflin`

Now that I`ve decided to not recontract on JET, I find myself trying to balance between the current job, searching for a new job (whether in Japan or elsewhere) and seeing as much of Japan as I can before summer`s end. Fortunately this past weekend I was able to cross off one on my Japan Bucket List: going to see a sumo tournament!

First of all, sumo is way more interesting to watch live than on TV. I saw a sumo match on TV once and had to say I wasn`t impressed. Every time the 力士(rikishi, or sumo wrestler) crouch, they just get up again and wipe themselves off like they were fighting the whole time. But after watching the tournament in Osaka, reading up on the history and just living here in Japan, I`ve come to understand and appreciate the sport.

The Players:
行司- Gyouji, or sumo referee. Dressed in preeeetty colors and gets to twirl a pretty fan
力士- Rikishi, or sumo wrestlers
横綱- Yokozuna, highest title given to a rikishi
The Judges- 4 judges, one for each side of the ring. Look like Bleach captains.

What`s a Japanese event without some ceremonies! The opening ceremony had the rikishi form 2 lines on either side of the stadium and each line walked up to the 土俵 (doyou, the ring where they duke it out) and performed an opening ritual. They wore spiffy looking aprons that were made of silk and range in design and flashiness. One rikishi`s nearly blinded me because it was bling-blinging so much.

bling bling!

After the rikishi strutted their stuff, the yokuzuna and two upper ranking rikishi performed another ceremony which comprised of stamping out the evil in the doyou (NOW I know why sumo wrestlers stomp on the ground!) and the weirdest epic squat shuffle I have ever seen in my life.

Everybody shufflin`

The Game:
The matches start with the yokozuna match being last. Before they even face each other, they purify themselves (lots of purifying going on in sumo) and the doyou (again) by tossing salt unto it. They then squat and crouch then...get up and repeat the purifying-get-ready- process. This goes on for a couple of more times until the rikishi `feel ready`. Or after 4 minutes whatever comes first. The actual fight itself doesn`t take long at all so it`s no wonder they take their time. This part of the match is used to psych out the opponent. Some rikishi actually did some moves in their corner towards the audience while fans cheered (WW...S?) A rikishi loses if any part of their body hits the ground. I was excited to finally see Hakuho (the current yokozuna) in action and see him win. I would`ve been bummed if I came all this way just to see the yokuzuna *lose*.

And of course all events must end with an *ending* ceremony. Sumo ends with a chosen lower-ranked rikishi to perform a special `bow dance` (yumitori-shiki), which is pretty bad ass.

The short matches might make sumo sound pretty dull, but sumo is steeped with history and ceremony and the matches reflect that. That isn`t to say watching the game live is boring. Japanese cheered for their favorite rikishi and waved banners or little fans to show who they were rooting for. So yes, unlike graduation ceremonies and some music concerts, Japanese can let loose. I was expecting workers to walk up and down the aisles selling beer and matsuri-type food, but the only thing they were selling was ice cream...(food was being sold in the omiyage stalls in the halls). Another interesting thing is how international the sport is. A lot of rikishi are from other countries including the yokozuna Hakuho who`s Mongolian.  I once read an article on how some Japanese people rallied against Korean pop-starts invading their dramas and radio. Yet the Japanese seem to embrace the foreigners happily which surprised me. It was a pretty cool thing to see.

All in all, I`m glad I got to see a sumo match and recommend it to anyone who wants a taste of the blend of Japanese past and modern history. I`d recommend getting tickets in advance or be prepared to lighten your wallet the day of (like me and my friends did. Worth it though). You *can* get the free seating general tickets, but those are sold only the day of the match and bought on site so you would have to be in line pretty early. 

Now everyone, do the sumo shuffle!


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