Nagoya Grand Sumo Basho
Wow time flies eh? I’ve been really rubbish at keeping this blog up! I wanted to update it after our summer holiday but we were straight back in to school and it feels like it’s been full on since then, so any down time has been used to chill out with Ash, study Japanese and re-read Harry Potter (well good!). Anyway I’m going to try to pull my socks up and get all updated!
Ash had said since we moved to Japan that he really wanted to see a sumo match. I was happy to go along but really didn’t know what to expect, or if I would enjoy it. But hey, when in Rome eh?
As luck would have it the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament is held for two weeks every July at the Aichi Ken Prefectural gym. Ash and I broke up from school for the holidays in mid-July so couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go if possible.
Sumo is an ancient sport with its origins dating back 2000 years. It has roots in Shinto Buddhism and is rich in history and tradition. I could write about the history of sumo and the intricacies of a sumo’s life but this would turn in to a super long blog so I’ll try to keep it as succinct as possible.
Sumo is one of Japan’s most popular spectator sports and is considered by many to be the national sport of Japan. Consequently the large annual sumo event tickets do sell out fast. Fortunately we’d read online that it would be possible to get cheap on the day non-reserved tickets if we turned up early enough.
We woke up early on Friday 25th July and caught the train/subway (it’s a train line that turns in to the subway line) to Nagoya. As we were leaving the station we caught our first peek of a sumo wrestler! He was all dressed up in a bright yukata and looked a little strange as he merged with the morning commuters heading to city hall scanning his travel card at the gates. We realised then just how big these guys were going to be!
As we followed the path up to the gym we could hear a drum beating in the distance. Once we were closer we could see that the drummer was at the top of a wooden tower. This is sumo tradition. Sumo tournament organisers beat the drum to announce that the sumo matches will be happening soon. This and the fact that the hall is situated very close to Nagoya castle made this feel very atmospheric.
We could see more wrestlers in colourful yukatas entering the gym and started to get really excited.
We arrived at the ticket office around 8:30am and managed to nab some of the final cheap seat tickets. The event didn’t start until 10:00 and we had some boring driving license related errands to run so set off to sort those before returning to the gym.
We came back to start watching matches at 10:00. The trainee non-ranked and lower ranked fighters are the first to wrestle so apart from us and a few old people the arena was pretty empty for the first hour or so. We wandered around the venue for a while taking it all in. It was really impressive. There were fighters milling around being interviewed by newspapers and getting ready to wrestle.
Sumo (相撲 sumō) is a competitive full-contact wrestling sport where a rikishi (wrestler) attempts to force another wrestler out of a circular ring (dohyō). A rikishi loses a match when any part of his body other than the bottoms of his feet touches the dohyo or when he is pushed or thrown outside of the ring. This means that matches are often over quite fast and makes sumo a really exciting sport.
With the day ticket you’re allowed to leave the gym once and return so we went to Kamimaezu for a delicious chicken lunch at a Brazilian restaurant and returned at about 1:30pm to find the arena bustling with people ready to watch the higher ranked players.
From about 2 o’clock, the senior division arrived and an entrance ceremony took place. The higher ranked sumos all wore unique exquisitely designed colourful silk aprons and did processions around the stage. It was quite amazing to watch. The fighters varied in size but were generally enormous!
After the procession had finished, the “yokozunas” ceremony began. A Yokozuna is a grand champion (the current yokozuna is actually Mongolian). Once in the ring the champions clap their hands and stamp their feet.
The matches later on in the day were really exciting! A big part of the fight focuses on the wrestlers playing to the crowd and trying to psych each other out/intimidate each other before fighting. They puff themselves up, turn their backs on each other and throw salt across the ring. It was really entertaining. Because we didn’t know anything about sumo Ash and I decided to choose a fighter for each match, bet on them (sportsmans bets of course!) and keep a tally of our scores.
The final match was great and the wrestler who Ash had chosen won. To our surprise the crowd roared and everyone in the expensive sections (which are tatami style with cushions to sit on) threw their purple cushions towards the ring. We were gutted that it was finished!
I can’t recommend sumo enough. It’s such an interesting and unique event and is a great part of Japanese culture. I hope I get the opportunity to go again whilst we’re in Japan,