Sunday, 21 September 2014

Sumo-ch to Tell You

Yesterday was my first experience of live Sumo. Needless to say, for a girl who loves WWE and Japanese culture, it was extremely enjoyable. The matches go from about 8.30am and start with the most junior wrestlers, working up through the ranks until the Juryo (second tier) at about 2.30pm and then Makuuchi (the cream) from about 3.40pm. Your ticket is for the whole day but it's quite normal for people not to arrive until 3ish. I got there about 12.30 and the place was fairly empty. See below - photos when I arrived and just before I left.
sumo stadium at 1pm
sumo stadium at 5pm
Yes, we were rather high up. Other photos were generally taken at the maximum zoom of my camera (x18) so that will explain the quality.

The early matches were the junior guys but they were still pretty big.
Junior Match
The guys in black around the edges are the five judges who decide who wins and adjudicate of there is any doubt. That very rarely happens, but excitingly actually did when we were there. You win a bout by making your opponent touch inside the ring with any part of his body other than his feet, or outside the ring with any part of his body.
Junior Match
The status of the wrestlers also dictates the kind of referee you get. The ref in the photo above has bare shins and feet and would not be allowed to preside over a senior level match. I found the robes the refs wore fascinating so made a little montage.
Sumo Referee Montage
Those are all senior refs - indicated not just by robe length but also by their wearing socks and sometimes straw sandals, and also by the colour of their tassels and cords.

While things were quiet I had a good look at the crowd and saw some lovely groupings. Old geezers, who are in fact very rudely pointing the soles of their feet towards the ring - not the done thing.
Sumo Audience During the Junior Matches
Family group with a packed lunch.
Sumo Audience During the Junior Matches
I would have loved to have one of those 4-seat boxes on the ground floor but you have to buy all four seats and it comes to about £200. Our tickets up the top were still about £35 each, although for 8+ hours entertainment that doesn't work out too badly. Meanwhile outside there was major fandom going on as crowds of people waited for the senior wrestlers to arrive. I am not sure who this is but I happened to snap him as I was meandering around.
Makuuchi Wrestler Arriving
They each arrived with a little entourage of junior wrestlers who serve as their assistants/servants as part of their training. This guy was about two metres tall and highly impressive.

Once the junior matches have finished the Juryo wrestlers have their entrance which is very impressive. They parade in and surround the ring.
Ring Entrance of Juryo Grade Wrestlers
They are each wearing an embroidered silk apron, usually presented to them by a sponsor or fan. The guy in the front of the above photo, third from the left, is from Bulgaria and has the country's location map embroidered on his. The guys in this group were noticeably bigger than the first and showed a lot of skill, although that didn't always mean the matches were longer. This one can be described in three photos.
Short Sumo Match 1
Short Sumo Match 2
Short Sumo Match 3
And that's back to the shower.

Then it was the turn of the very senior guys - the Makuuchi. They paraded in in the same way, led by the senior referee.
Ring Entrance of Makuuchi Grade Wrestlers
Once in they stood facing outwards, then turned inwards, clapped and raised their arms.
Ring Entrance of Makuuchi Grade Wrestlers
The guy with his arms still raised here is an Egyptian, and you can see the egyptian cartouche on his apron.
Ring Entrance of Makuuchi Grade Wrestlers
Two to the left from him is a Brazilian with the Jesus status on his. Once they had left it was time for the entrance of the Yokozuna. These are the Kings of Sumo. There can only be a maximum of four at a time and there are lot of requirements about how they must show their prowess before they get elected to this role. It is a huge honour to be made a Yokozuna and when a new one is named there is a big ceremony at one of the biggest shrines in Tokyo. They also get a larger than life size photo portrait of themselves hung in the main hall for all time - you can see some of these in the very first picture of this post. The three current ones are all Mongolian, which has caused a certain amount of consternation within Japan, and two were wrestling while we were there. Their entrances were paltry by WWE standards but what they lacked in 80s metal and fireworks they made up for in elegance and gravitas.
Ring Entrance of Yokozuna Hakaho
As well as the aprons, they wear these huge rope belts with elaborate looped fastenings which can weigh up to 35kg! They also have two attendants accompanying them. Once in they show their flexibility and strength by doing various maneuvers, the exact significance of which were lost on me.
Ring Entrance of Yokozuna Hakaho
The second Yokozuna to enter was Kakuryu, and one of his attendants was carrying a kendo sword.
Ring Entrance of Yokozuna Kakuryu
A great to do was made about some matches which had sumo celebrities in them. This is Kyokutenho, who is my favourite having seen him wrestle on TV several times. His claim to fame is that he is 40 years old and there have only been six wrestlers older than him in the whole history of sumo. I've seen him interviewed and he has such a kind, happy face!
Kyokutenho at 40 years old
He contrasts with this newcomer (below) who is a mere 21 - he had come up through University wrestling where he had been champion and had not yet grown his hair long enough for the traditional top knot.
Popular matches can have sponsors, and their banners are carried around the ring after the wrestlers arrive but before the match starts. So for instance, this match had two sponsors.
Sponsor Flags for a Match
This guy is also from the Uni circuit and is called Endo.
Endo before the match
He is apparently THE sumo pin-up on account of his good looks (?) and so his match had a few extra sponsors.
Half of Endo's Sponsors
A few? There were so many they had to do the flags in two batches. Each sponsor gives a cash prize to the winner in an envelope so for this match the stack of envelopes (which the ref hands over in a little ceremony at the end of the match) was about 4" high. This is Endo's bottom. Does it not make you want to lean forward and give it a little pat?
Endo's Bottom
Reminds me of my niece. And then this is Endo's match.
Endo on the floor
Yep, he lost in about two seconds, making his result sheet this tournament show seven straight losses. Somehow I don't think he'll be sumo's darling for much longer. His opponent could easily have picked up £50k for winning this match alone on account of all those envelopes. The junior wrestlers get an annual stipend of a few thousand plus their food and lodgings but at the top end there is big money to be made from matches and most of all from endorsements and sponsors.

The only other matches to attract so many sponsors were those concerning the Yokozuna.
Kakuryu (left) vs Chiyotairyu
They each won their own matches, much to the delight of the crowd.

The final stage in the sumo day is the bow twirling ceremony. I think the judges choose someone who has performed well that day to do this but I am not 100% on that. In any case he was very impressive.
Bow Ceremony
He was handed the bow by the senior referee and proceeded to twirl it all over in the most majestic cheerleader performance you'll ever see.

Leaving the stadium, the drums were being played from the top of a tall, free standing tower in the front of the stadium grounds, to let the neighbourhood know that events had finished for the day. The atmosphere outside was lovely - like a happy crowd after their team won at home. There were a number of elderly gents with their elderly friends who had obviously had rather too much beer and were heading back to the station like very gentle dodgem cars. Everyone was in high spirits and personally I would love to go back another day!


Gmama Jane said...

Fascinating!!! I feel like I was almost there! What an amazing peep into Japanese culture.
Gmama Jane

Gmama Jane said...

BTW, cute play on words for your blog post title
Gmama Jane

Gmama Jane said...

BTW, cute play on words for your blog post title
Gmama Jane

Mdm Samm said...

that is so fascinating...

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