Tuesday, July 17, 2007


NOTE: I unfortunately had so much trouble uploading two of the videos that I've given up for now. :( That means that some of the text may not entirely match the photos that I've put in to replace them. I'll try again later and hopefully be able to include them in a later post. The sumo tournament on Friday was awesome - definitely one of my top five Japan must-sees! The tournament runs for about two weeks. Each wrestler, or rikishi, has one match per day, though I think some of the lower-ranked rikishi have fewer than that. After the tournament, the standings are revised to reflect the results and wrestlers are either promoted or demoted based on their performance.
The tournament day begins with the lowest-ranked wrestlers and continues through the day to conclude with the top-ranked ones. They are divided into cohorts - sort of like a JV or varsity team in high school - and only wrestle those in their own division. Here's a video of the second-highest cohort being introduced. You may notice a guy in the center (he's not too obvious in this video) wearing a red kimono and black hat. That's the referee. There is one referee, dressed in kimono of varying colors, inside the ring. There are also four judges, dressed in black kimono, sitting on the edge of each side of the ring. If there is any difficulty determining the winner of the match, the five of them meet together to resolve the question. They can also declare a rematch.

You usually sit on the floor in a 2- or 4-person box seat to watch the tournament (though there are a few cheap bleacher seats up top). We got a two-person seat that was a four-person size because we are big Americans. If we'd actually crammed four people in our box it would have been decidedly uncomfortable - some salarymen sitting in front of us reminded me of four eggs in an egg carton - but as it was, it was great!

We were able to move around, shift positions, lay Chloe down in a vain attempt to get her to nap, let her walk around... it was much more comfortable, and much more relaxing, than your typical stadium seating. I can easily see hanging out there all day.

Before the final cohort (I'm sure this isn't their official name, by the way) began wrestling, two yokozuna (I may have spelled that wrong) came out and performed this ceremony (this is just one of them). The yokozuna is the highest rank that can be attained by a sumo wrestler, and once he has reached this level he cannot be demoted. If his performance fails, he's expected to retire honorably. Anyway, this ceremony is performed for the benefit of the Shinto gods. The yokozuna puts his arms out to show that he has no weapons and that this will be an honorable match; I think that the foot stomp might be to get the gods' attention, but I'm not completely sure. (Click on the photo to see it in more detail.) Chloe thought it was cool... but her feet, the wooden divider, and the people above us were far more interesting. :) Finally, your opportunity to watch a sumo match. (Haha, just kidding! Here are some nice pictures, though. Again, click to enlarge.) The wrestlers are given four minutes to glare at one another. This time of intimidation is a big part of the match. The time limit is relatively new; until 1928 the wrestlers were permitted to glare for as long as they wanted, but in that year it was reduced to twenty minutes and has been decreased a few times since. After the glaring, the match itself may last only seconds. You'll notice them throwing salt upon entering the ring, which serves the purpose of ceremonial purification but also seems to be used for swagger and intimidation of one's opponent. One of the most interesting things about sumo, I think, is that it originates in this land where open agression is anathema and yet is one of the least passive-aggressive sports around. There's no "accidentally" hitting someone with a pitch here! American football certainly contains a bit of opponent intimidation, but even it doesn't have four minutes dedicated to The Glare.

"ARRRRRR! Look at me stomp! I can whip the stuffing out of you, doughboy! ARRRRRR!" Pretty sure that's what they said. After the match, the place clears out in a matter of minutes! The tournament ended at 6:00 p.m. sharp - no-one like the Japanese for timeliness - and we thought we'd hang out for a few minutes and wait for the public transit to clear out a little bit. This photo was taken at roughly 6:05 p.m., right before a kind gentleman came up and told us that we had to leave now. By 6:10 p.m., all the cushions had been collected and the place was pretty well clean. That was the other thing. There is a notable lack of trash lying around considering how many people just vacated this area - everyone packed their garbage into their little plastic grocery bags and brought it home with them!

Oh, and one more thing - because of sumo's relationship to Shinto, the ring is considered a sacred area. No women are allowed to touch it, or the ring becomes defiled. And we thought haivng women at Synod was a big deal... :)

Stay tuned for the videos - I'm determined to get them up sooner or later!


Anonymous Megan said...

I love Chloe's yukata!!! I am actually contemplating buying one now, for the kids we plan to have 5+ years down the road. Ha ha. The Japanese sure know how to dress though...;)

7/23/2007 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Meika said...

Thanks! I've considered getting larger sizes and boys' versions, too, so I can relate. :)

7/23/2007 09:10:00 AM  

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