Yesterday was the opening day of the 2011 September Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo. It’s one of those “definitely Japanese” activity that I wanted to experience, so I went there without any ticket reservation and hoping that I will be able to secure one regardless if its the farthest seat in the arena. This is my first time to watch any of such similar sports, although back home everyone is crazy with boxing and Manny Pacquio. I don’t have much expectation except for the fact that I will see two big guys wearing fundoshi, trying hard to throw down each other out of the ring, somehow remembering that funny seen from the Austin Power movie.
Arriving an hour earlier before the start of Dohyo-iri (Ring Entering Ceremony), I was able to buy the General Admission Arena Seats B (2nd Floor) for 4,900 yen. Outside the venue, there are several fans amidst the noon heat who were eagerly awaiting the arrival of their favorite wrestlers, maybe for a photo opportunity and to offer some support. You can feel the festivity of the tournament opening day once you enter the building; there were the yellow sumo mascot, the grand trophy on display, museum for a brief sumo history, souvenir shops and snacks bar, with both local and foreign audience roaming around and trying to find their seat.
My seat is a good option, not to expensive and the view is just on the right angle. My seatmates are one hardcore Japanese fan who is screaming at the top of his lungs the names of his favorite Rikishi (wrestler) and 3 western expat who are slugging some beers, imitating the Japanese guy by screaming the wrestlers’ names in a really funny way and betting against each other. Imagine, I was the only girl on the whole row and the male androgen is quite high but never did I feel uncomfortable, I enjoy it and had several laughs along the way.
Don’t ask me about the whole match process. I don’t know the exact terminology and the sequence. All I can remember is that opponent Rikishis will enter the ring, then will face the audience, claps their hands and perform some leg stomping exercise. Then, they will go to the corner where they will drink water from a huge spoon and a towel will be provided to wipe their face or body. After which, they will re-enter the ring while throwing salt, costume-clad referee in the middle and the game begins. Flesh will collide, butts are exposed and the first one on the ground or thrown outside the ring loses the match. I can’t help but enjoy each and every bout; there are fights who finish in less than one minute, there are those who you think are unfairly match in terms of the players’ physical appearance and surprisingly the smaller on win and there are those who even will require council decision.
Between the junior bout, the grand match and the official closing of the day’s game, there are several other activities that are worth watching like the introduction of the player’s name, speech from the commissioner and the Yumitori-shiki (bow twirling ceremony). Aside from the matches, these other activities usually draw huge cheers from the crowd. You will also see few men whose job is to sweep the dohyō (ring) ensuring the sand are inside the rope before, during or after each match.
What I like about the Sumo Wrestling sports is that there is no trash talking. The Rikishi’s are expected to respect each other and oftentimes, if one loses you will see him just nod and leave the ring peacefully. Another thing that I learned is that not all wrestlers are Japanese and it’s a common mistake to assume that the heavier the player, the greater the chances that he will win the game.