Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Kokutai: Sumo

Yep, there's Sugichi again. Now, when your friends ask you if you've ever seen a sumo wrestling cedar tree, you can confidently answer, "Yes."

I've been lazy about getting this post up for no good reason, except that it means I have to look through the dozens of pictures and videos I took to choose the best ones-and I took a quite a lot of sumo.

Sumo was great! I think I'd have to say it was my favorite of the Kokutai events I saw (I liked Karate, but it didn't have the energy of sumo). For one thing, everyone's attention is focused on one center ring (dohyo), so when a match ends (and some did so spectacularly) the whole crowd reacts at the same time. In the meantime, people shout to their favored wrestler to "Go for it!" or say "You got it! You're all right!"

Teams of three wrestlers from each competing prefecture are welcomed by applause as they enter the arena. The dohyo had to be constructed for the event, according to official specifications. Every dohyo has a shrine-like roof suspended above the ring, with four different colored tassels hanging from each corner, representing the respective spirits of the four cardinal directions.

The beginning of a match seen from where we sat. Frank from Noshiro joined me in what we discerned to be the Akita section of the crowd on the second level.

Now, part of being a tall, light-haired foreigner in Japan is attracting curious, surprised, or suspicious glances, hearing the people nearby mutter things about you, or even burst into giggles for no other reason than the obvious. It should be no surprise that us gaijin get treated differently. Some love the attention. Personally, I think it gets a little tiring sometimes. Still, I'd be a hypocrite if I complained, since I can't honestly say that I've never taken advantage of being a foreigner when it's beneficial for me to do so:

"How much is this fruit?... Free? Oh, you shouldn't have!"

"What's that? It's OK that the machine ate my ticket? Thank you!"

-which brings me back to sumo. After a couple full tournaments, Frank decided to call it a day and left. I was about to follow suit when I decided I'd first check out the view from the standing area on the ground floor. Not twenty seconds after walking in was I approached and offered a place on one of the "benches" where some people sat and an unopened can of tea. So, I decided to stick around a bit, watching from my new viewpoint:

I conversed casually with the guy sitting to my left, asking him a few questions about sumo now and then. As it turned out, he lived just down the road, and was supplying lodging for the Hokkaido sumo team. I ended up staying to the end, after which he invited me to his house for dinner. My sense of modesty said no, but my desire for a unique Japanese experience said yes and we drove over to meet the rest of his family. I immediately felt guilty about accepting after entering their house. I found myself really wishing I had brought some nice gift with me to give them, but anyway, I tried to be a nice guest, enjoyed talking and eating with them, and made sure to get their address so that I can look them up in the future (and bring something to thank them).

Most matches ended with someone being pushed backward out of the ring, while others (like this one seen here) ended with someone just being completely thrown out. Some others ended with people falling forward on their face, backward off the stage, or being lifted up in a giant bear-hug by the other guy and just carried out (which always got a good reaction from the crowd!).

Some more pictures:

Sumo matches being as short as they are, I took over 40 videos of individual matches with my camera. Here's a few selections (linked to google video because there's a bunch):

Video 1 - The smaller guy manages to squirm around to get behind his opponent, making it easy to lead him out of the ring.

Video 2 - This match ends quickly when both guys fly out of the ring together. Notice that the match begins only when both opponents are touching the ground with both fists.

Video 3 - This guy was by far the smallest competitor there. All of his matches pretty much went like this one. We think maybe he was supposed to go to the athletics event and got lost.

Video 4 - Here's a pretty close match that Akita won. If you watch it, I think it's pretty clear that Akita wins as a direct result of Frank's and my cheering.

Video 5 - Another close match. This time, Akita lost.

Video 6 - There were a couple sections of bleachers occupied by kids on a field trip or something. They cheered for whoever was on their side of the arena, and pretty much didn't stop doing cheers the whole day.

And finally, here's Keiko and Tomomi, the mother and daughter of the family I visited. Tomomi must be the only Japanese person alive who can play the accordion.


Sean said...

Finally, a similarity between Japanese culture and life here in the South - both have a fascination with wrestling! (Of course here it is referred to as "wrastlin'!"

Also, my kids saw this blog and were very curious about the traditional vestiture of the Sumo participants. Try explaining that one!

Dad said...


I always thought Sumo wrestlers were just big fat guys. It looks like they are also great athletes.


jeffisdancing said...

There's definitely more to it than fat guys pushing each other. You do have to be agile and strong, and able to do the right maneuver at the right moment to catch your opponent off guard.

-but these guys were just amateurs. The pros definitely don't sit at home eating potato chips. They spend most of their life living and training in special communal "training stables," and there are strict rules about how they conduct themselves in their daily lives. And they're all very much celebrities to the public. It must be a strange life.