November 20, 2012


Despite waking up during what is known as "morning", today was fantastic! First of all, Kurumi's mother made me a Japanese burger for breakfast. Burgers for breakfast: the wave of the future. Ixnay the bun, substitute the ketchup for some BBQ/soy sauce, and stick with your usual side of granola with whole milk and you've got the real breakfast of champions.

I said my brbs to Kurumi's mother and black lab and left for Fukuoka, which is a major port city in Southern Japan where one can hop on a ferry to Korea or catch a quick flight to Hong Kong. My intentions though were to attend the Grand Sumo tournament that is currently being held in the city. Sumo is a year round sport comprised of six of 2 week long tournaments across the country.

The dohyo
My original plan was to go alone and shell out $180 for ring side seats. My only other option as a single-attendant were the nosebleeds, but the ringside seats came with a warning that sumo wrestlers very well may fall on you, so I figured I was going to get a nosebleed either way. While staying in Kyoto though, I befriended a Swiss gentleman who expressed interest in attending the tournament with me, so we've been coordinating ever since and decided to go with the cheap seats. Major regret as I watched a number of people get squished by falling wrestlers, which is broadcast on TV, so I could have checked that off my goal list! Oh well, you live, you learn, you laugh at other people's misfortune.

Luckily, the tournament hall is small and the wrestlers are large, so there's really not a bad seat in the house.

If you're like I was 7 hours ago, all you know about sumo is that the winner is the person who doesn't get knocked out the ring. Well allow me to educate you on some of the things I retained from the program:
  • There are different classes of wrestlers. Unlike boxing though, they are not determined by weight, but instead record. This means you can (and will) see a match between a 200 pound wrestler and a 400 pound wrestler.
  • Today, every contestant wrestle once, starting with the lowest class and moving up in skill, with the average match lasting 2 minutes.
  • Much like horses, sumo wrestlers belong to stables, where they are housed, feds and clothed. Obviously the stables do a great job of feeding them, whereas clothing them is still up for debate. 
  • Certain matches are sponsored by various companies, and the winner of the match (one fight) takes the winnings.
  • A wrestler takes on a poetic name for themselves, and before each match, an announcer sings each opponent's name in what can only be described as a high-pitched yodel.
  • There is no start bell or "go" from the referee, but instead, the wresters must mutually agree (through body movements) when to start. This leads to highly dramatic and comical beginnings of matches, with contestants putting off the fight for minutes. Just as you think they're about to spar, one will stand up, turn his back, slap his ass, and return to his corner.
And my favorite piece of trivia from today:
One half of the competitors in this particular rank
The initial spar: Torikumi
The four tassels that hang from the roof symbolize each season. Duh.
Belly flop
I will admit that at first glance it seems like sumo is a bunch of hurry up and wait. The announcer yodels two names, the wrestlers get up from their mats, waddle up into the ring, go to their corners, wash their faces, drink some water, slap their thighs, stretch a bit, grab some salt and throw it as they enter the ring, do the classic sumo-stomp, stretch some more, take their positions, and then... nothing. One will ultimately decide not to spar at that moment, so they'll go back to their corners and repeat the entire process. 2 or 3 times.

Only after I realized that this was a huge part of the match did I really start enjoying myself. It's comical how long they take, and the audience knows that. Sometimes an opponent would decide not to spar and the audience would CLAP and CHEER for them. "BRILLIANT!" some would shout (or at least that's what I assumed). The throwing of salt also would occasionally get a cheer, but only when giant handfuls were thrown. What I would have given for a pretzel...

And of course, this entire event is centered around really fat guys wearing diapers. What's not to love?!

So much swag. *sag
There were some truly exciting moments. The only white dude (who I nicknamed Chestnut-san) was sparring against a gentleman who was easily twice his size. They went through their usual song and dance, and then when they both agreed to spar, they sprung up at each other. Just as their bodies met, Chestnut-san did a spin move, causing his opponent to literally dive out of the ring. The match wasn't even a second long. The crowd lost it!

As I mentioned before, certain matches are sponsored, with the victor of that match taking home the prize money. When one of these matches begins, a group of boys holding tapestries (one per sponsor) approach the ring and circle the perimeter. Boxing has good looking ladies in bikinis announcing the round, sumo has little asian boys in kimonos.

Hey, you look like an idiot
Yes, she's watching TV coverage on her phone, of the match, happening 100 feet in front of her.
They say sumo wrestlers are fat, but this guy was paper thin!

I have often wondered what sport has the least amount of rules, and while there's plenty of ritual that goes into sumo, the rules are pretty simple and are summarized in the following paragraph from my program:
A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle or throwing him in the dohyo. To lose the match it is not necessary to fall in the circle or to be pushed completely out. The rikishi who touches the ground with any part of his body, his knee or even the tip of his finger, loses the match. Or he need only put one toe or his heel over the straw bales marking the circle. Striking with fists, hair pulling, eye gouging, chocking and kicking in the stomach or chest are prohibited. It is also against the rules to sieze the part of the band covering the vital organs

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