Joining the “Throwback Thursday” bandwagon, I decided it’s finally time for me to make good on my promised Sumo blog post.
This takes us back to our winter vacation in January 2013, when Olivia and I spent several days in Tokyo, Japan. On our last day there, we got up early at 5 am (isn’t vacation for sleeping in?!) and waited in line in freezing weather (our Texas blood isn’t used to Japan’s winters) for 2 hours, and got tickets to see Sumo wrestling!
If you follow the professional Sumo circuit, you’ll know that these tournaments take place twice a year in seven different areas in Japan, each one lasting two weeks before moving to the next place. It just so happened that the last day of our trip coincided with the last day of the tournament in Tokyo, and we were lucky enough to get tickets! (Nosebleed seats only sell the day of the tournament, while the better seats sell our early and have high prices).
It was a day of fun and learning, experiencing the history and culture that has created modern-day Sumo. The rules seem simple: the object is to either knock your opponent down or push them out of the ring (only your feet can touch the floor or you are considered “down”). However, there is much more to this sport.
There’s more to the opening than just fat men parading around in cloth diapers (not every wrestler is fat!). Each wrestler has a fancy half-dress thing that I’ll just call an “apron.” These aprons have different colors and a “coat-of-arms,” which is different for each man. Want one of your own? Be ready to throw down at least $20,000 USD! The men all enter the ring, circle it, and each throws salt into the ring. This is to ward off bad spirits who might cause injuries. (There’s a lot of salt throwing in Sumo.) Some words are said, things happen, and then the dohyo (think: wrestling ring) is cleared.
Fun Fact: The wrestling ring is made of a certain kind of clay and weighs several tons!
Another Fun Fact: Olivia says I should let other people decide whether my facts are fun or not.
In a single day of the tournament, each wrestler will face a total of one opponent in one match. One might think that this would make the tournament go fairly quickly. If you think that, you’re wrong. First the opponents enter the ring and throw some salt. This is not only to ward off bad spirits but is also a form of intimidation! (“Eat my salt!”) It can be quite interesting to see the many and varied styles with which one can throw salt into the air and on the ground. The salt throwing also includes the famous stomping of the feet. Then the opponents enter the ring and squat facing each other, staring into each other’s eyes. The referee signals the start of the match, and the wrestlers…stay still. You see, each wrestler waits until he is fully ready, mentally and physically one, before going at his opponent. However, if one starts before the other, the match is restarted. Apparently, these waiting periods and false starts could combine to make a single match last several hours. Thankfully, they now have a time limit of three minutes before they must start the match.
Finally, the wrestlers clash together, and the tussle begins. Some use strategies of pulling their opponents down to the ground or throwing them off balance, while others rely on their girth to push their opponents out of the ring. Strategically, the wrestler with more girth has a forceful advantage, but what they gain in girth, they lose in stamina and agility!
The Closing Ceremony
Finally, after an afternoon of fun watching the best Sumo wrestlers in Japan, we see the closing ceremony. Like the rest of the sport, this comes from a line of tradition and involves spinning and twirling a long rope in a specific series of moves. This rope dance is performed by the tournament champion, and then the wrestlers file out of the stadium.
On our way out, Olivia wanted to see how she would look as a sumo wrestler. A few hundred Big Mac’s later, here’s the result: