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Saturday, September 16

Where The Chanting Of "Su-MO, Su-MO, Su-MO" Would Not Go Over Well

On the train to the Sumo Tournament in Tokyo yesterday, I was reminded how much I had to make up for from the last trip I had planned. I still refuse to take full credit for the fiasco that was but I did feel it was important to get us there this time. Considering eight other people were relying of the directions I had given them, and they were all traveling on separate trains as they had missed getting to the meeting point on time. When we actually walked out of the underground subway and found we were in the right place, I received my due praise and have since redeemed myself.

As we walked the short distance to Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium, we passed many of the outdoor festivities including a small band of boys who were banging on a drum. When we first heard it, we thought they were just playing, but as we got closer, we realized that the odd, slow dum-dum-dum melody was actually being played in a form. We passed what I thought was a beggar although he certainly wasn’t dressed the way I expected for a day spent with a tin cup or bowl in his case. Kimono Hubby guessed he was a monk. But why would a monk beg? We may never know.

As we arrived at the main gate, the sidewalks were lined with people waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite wrestlers of the day. Of course, since we have no experience with Sumo and no nothing of who anyone is, nor could we read the brilliantly colored long flags that line the pathway telling us the names of today’s champions, we just meandered into the gate to find our seats.

After some small directional help to the right door to enter, we found our seats and took our first look around at our surroundings. On the lowest floor are the priciest seats with some of them hundreds of dollars. For that much money, we were actually glad to be in the cheap seats which are actual chairs. The pricey floor seats are the traditional Japanese pillow on the floor style. I can’t imagine spending a whole day (yes, those crazy Sumo dudes begin their tournament at 8 am and end at 6 pm) with my legs wrapped under me. The walls are lined with pictures of the grand champions which we all desperately wished we could read.

The less experienced wrestlers go first with the bigger and better wrestlers after lunch and the very best around 4 pm. We arrived around 1:45, took in the scene, watched a few of these lesser matches and then went in search of whatever grub they serve at these things.

The first stand we saw was your traditional American type… French fries, hamburgers, hotdogs and then some things that were meant to be American but the names frankly grossed me out so much that I blocked much of those moments out of my memory. A little further, we found what we were looking for. A stand filled with bento boxes and Japanese beeru. On the other side of the stand were the usual trinkets you find at any sporting event including keychains, mugs with Sumo positions, towels, signed characatures, chocolates shaped as Sumo, cookies shaped as Sumo. Okay, maybe not so much with the usual. We just picked out our bento boxes (the Americans you see are indeed with us), beerus and headed back to our seats to start the show. (Would you care to share a bento? Not Mentos... bento!)

While I do not understand everything about Sumo, this is what I can tell you. The first wrestlers of the day are hustled through, one match after the other with no delay in between. There must have been close to twenty matches in the first set and another twenty of the better wrestlers in a second set. As they come out to be introduced, they line up and come from two sides of the stadium, wearing beautifully colored ceremonial aprons which are discarded to leave behind only the silk loin clothes. These do indeed leave little to the imagination.

Matches tend to last only seconds. As the wrestlers get better, there is more pomp and circumstance prior to wrestling. They enter dohyo (ring), they face one other, pull the beaded strings from their loin cloth out of the way, sink down, bang their big knuckles on the lines in front of them, get up, lift themselves onto leg with the other out (the higher, the better), slap their heavy, muscular, wobbling thigh with a significant sound, repeat the same on the other leg, leave the ring, get some chalk, throw it (the crowd goes wild – but a polite wild), go back to the starting positions and do that several times until the crowd urges them on with cheers to start the match.

Cheering is very different than at home. It is quietly done… lots of oohs and aahs and clapping, a bit of the name yelling, but mostly you just sit rather quietly and take in this fine sport. We found one group of people in the entire stadium that help up a banner for their favorite. Not your typical American event with people painting their bodies in ghastly colors and screaming out obscenities but we found ourselves throwing in our own football commentary and cracking ourselves up. Yes, we covered our mouths so as not to laugh too loudly and impolitely.

Winning was pretty easy to figure out. Either you must force your opponent out of the small ring or you must force any part of them besides the soles of their feet to touch the ground. With only about a five meter wide ring, there isn’t much room for error which is why the matches are so short.

I personally love the chalk throwing part. As the wrestlers got better, they threw it higher and higher. It was such a taunt and I found myself feeling very bad for the ‘taunter’ if they lost their thirty second fight after all of their initial hoopla.

The best fight was when two wrestlers came out, had each other on the edge of the rim, both had legs straight out in the air, and then both fell off the meter high ring platform, legs still out and landed with a massive thud on the side of the dohyo, taking a few people out with them. Wow. That had to hurt.

When the wrestlers are done with their match of the day, some would wander around the arena. They were happy to let you take a picture with them and I even caught two enjoying an ice cream cone together. (He caught me right as I was snapping... so I ran away before he picked me up and threw me down, Sumo-style, into the Souvenir stand.)

While we were expecting quite a ceremony at the end, what we got was the final winning wrestler of the day being presented with a sword. He did some type of dance which resembled much of the stretching prior to each match and then headed out of the ring. That was it. One minute tops. Not what we expected when we were told to make sure we stayed for the ceremony. Incredulously we waited, but that really was it. When the workers came out and started removing the pillow seats and sweep up, we reluctantly headed out of the stadium.

It was an amazing thing to see though. We were left very hungry at this point as it was dinnertime. A handful of us caught a train to a part of Tokyo called Roppongi which is where all the good clubs and restaurants are. It looked like Times Square with its screaming lighted advertisements on every building. We found ourselves a really good Indian place to eat called Moti. After filling up on samosas, vindaloo, mutton, butter chicken, basmati rice and two types of nan, we stumbled with our full stomachs back to the train for the ride home. Kimono Hubby and I were completely exhausted and so happy to find that this time we just happened to catch the right trains quickly and were home in only an hour and a half. We didn’t have to switch at every other train which was greatly appreciated. Neither of us were up to figuring anything out by that point. It sure isn’t the Metro they’ve got going on here. But in time, I think we will get it.


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Anonymous said...

Too bad about that person commenting ahead of me. I was searching for a quick way to make money too, but it doesn't look like moving to Japan is my answer - DAMN!

Love all your little 'stories' and must admit that I get kinda ticked when you don't post for a day or so. You're my morning ritual at work. (Immediately following coffee and email check of course.)

Kimono Karen said...

You know, you are not the first person to complain if I don't post daily. But I think you all are nuts! As I tell those other ones too... I have to actually HAVE the experience to WRITE about it. You seriously don't want to hear drivel about how I ate Corn Pops in my underwear while watching Ally McBeal reruns... and that is how very lame my life is some days.

Kimono Karen said...

Oh! And the first comment is damn spam again! Which is why I will from now on publish comments myself to get rid of the spam... until I figure out a better way... next month.

PS - Can't believe I am after email. Coffee - I get. But email? Pshhh.