1.15.2011

Sumo Wrestling is the Bomb!

Our lovely friends Shawn & Hiromi took us to a traditional Sumo wrestling match here in Tokyo. I never in a million years thought that I would have the opportunity to see real-live Sumo. But I'm here to tell you that it is one of the most fascinating and ritualistic sports I have ever seen. We Americans generally think of Sumo as two giants rolling around wearing leather diapers (am I right?), but there is so much more to it than that.

For starters, Sumo dates back thousands of years ago, so there is a great history and reverence towards the sport and the wrestlers themselves; they're like celebrities here. We were lucky enough to be sitting with a Sumo sports commentator - an American - who has lived in Japan for 20 years and has been writing about Sumo even longer. We learned so much from him!

Flags outside the arena.

A few tid-bits we learned:  the judges of each wrestling bout (which change from bout to bout) ritualistically wear a small sword at their waist to symbolize that they are willing to 'finish themselves' if they do not judge a bout with integrity. The wrestlers each throw a handfull of salt into the air onto the wrestling mat (which somewhat resembles the Rock of Gibraltar) to ritually cleanse the mat. Also, when a pair of wrestlers squats down for a bout, it's not an automatic squat-and-wrestle situation; sometimes the wrestlers will just squat and have a staring contest until they're ready to wrestle.

Here are some photos from the match. Be warned, we had a great view. A full moon view, you might say...

My lovely friend Katie May and I enjoying tea & sake.

Casey Fiance really enjoyed the Sumo'ing too.

A great view of the Sumo stadium. We were sitting in boxes, but for the most part, spectators sit cross-legged in traditional padded seats.

Before a set of bouts, a group of wrestlers (wearing their ceremonial aprons) is announced.
Ha - this pic looks like they're doing the hokey pokey.

The man in purple is a judge. The two not-so-gentle giants are poised and readying themselves before the bout. Look how effortlessly they rest their big bodies on their just their toes! The box in front of them is full of the sacred salt which they throw (think Labron James' pre-game show).

Then comes the stomping. Ceremonially, the wrestlers wide-stance stomp the mat to drive the demons away.

Then the wrestlers face off and squat. They could have a staring contest seemingly up to 2 or 3 times before they make contact, and I believe the judge determines when that happens.

Aaaaaand WRESTLE...

A bout between wrestlers can last 5 seconds or 25 seconds, but they're usually pretty quick. It's funny because the biggest guy doesn't always win. Sometimes the smaller guy will use the bigger one's size against him.

In Sumo, the following is not permitted:
A) no closed-fist hitting or slapping
B) no biting
C) no grabbing of the groin region
And that's it. We saw a lot of face slapping and belt grabbing. One well-known wrestler's specialty is to grab his opponent's belt and twist. Oweee!

Sumo Face Slap!


Not all wrestlers are Japanese either. The commentator told us that many are from Mongolia & Russia.


What's a wrestler's objective, you ask? To push their opponent out of the ring first, or to make their opponent touch a part of their body to the mat other than their feet. I saw one bout end just because a wrestler slipped on the sacred salt and touched his knee to the mat (the salt seems more of a hazard than a help, I think).

This pic is my favorite. We snuck down close to the ring for this one.

And just like other sports, bets can be placed on a wrestler. The higher the bets that are placed, the more banners the wrestler has for that bout. Some are even sponsored; I saw a McDonalds banner.

I remembered this from the film Memoirs of a Geisha... Geisha attend Sumo matches to entertain businessmen. In Japan, there still exist houses with practicing Geisha. This photo isn't great because they were so far away, but we spotted a box in which Geisha were sitting with beautifully painted faces and hair ornaments. Neat-o!

After the match behind the arena, we followed a few Sumo wrestlers out. It was freezing outside, but all they needed was their little robes and flippy floppies. Goodbye Sumo men!

It may be a long shot, but if you ever ever EVER have the opportunity to attend a Sumo match in Japan - do it. I know what you're thinking... 'But that's a lot of male caboose to feast my eyes upon'. I promise, you totally go numb to it after the first few bouts. Plus you can drink beer and eat weird food!

(side note: I do not suggest the weird food)

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