Special sumo day

Note – don’t get bored by the story and give up. The after-match action is pretty cool.

Today I went to my first sumo match ever. It was the opening day of the 15 day Nagoya match, one of the country’s major meets. Although I had never been to a match, I had seen some on TV. Still, TV didn’t prepare me for actually going.

One of my Japanese work colleagues arranged the tickets. It turns out he got the tickets from one of the wrestlers who is a friend of his. Pretty cool. Here’s a picture of some of the advertisements as we made our way in to the stadium. The gymnasium is within the Nagoya Castle grounds.

Advertisements on the entrance to the sumo arena

We had box seats, which I thought was a pretty good deal. Well, the boxes make the Hollywood Bowl boxes look spacious. Pretty tight quarters. You can see from the picture that the box was a surface with some mats and pipe boundaries. Luxurious! I went with Steve, Shuji, and Adryan. A very international crowd.

Adryan, Shuji, Steve, me

We had a pretty good view of the arena, and we were right behind the television crew so we got to watch instant replays.

The wide angle view from our box

We arrived at about 2:30 pm. We could have arrived at 8:30 am. Matches were going on that long. But we didn’t really need to see the wrestlers who are moving up in rank. We got there around the middle rankings. We were there in time to see Shuji’s friend win, and another lose. There were a fair number of foreigners in the crowd, and the ones who kept standing in our way and blocking our view were, of course, foreigners! Down in front!

We watched the matches with our legs wrapped like a pretzel. Fortunately I am able to still sit Indian style. It’s not so easy. A colleague of mine was elsewhere and I doubt he had a lot of fun trying to sit in the box.

Finally the big boys came out.

The elite
They are a mixed bag – Russians, Bulgarians, Mongolian, and Japanese. The speed and power were clearly different from the previous matches.

Preparing for the lunge

There were some pretty nasty head blows by some of the wrestlers. The crowd was glad to see dirty wrestlers and foreigners lose. The final match between the current grand champion and a challenger was the best. The tournaments are basically a 15 day round-robin type event – it isn’t a one and done situation. Good thing too, because the current grand champion lost in a highly entertaining scrum. Matches last from about 10 seconds to a couple of minutes. This match was probably about a minute. You could tell these guys were strong. After the grand champion Mongolian Asashoryu lost, all the seat cushions came flying! Apparently Asahoryu is not well liked. The seat cushions typically come flying when the yokuzuna (grand champion) loses. Adryan actually bumped in to him last night and he was not too friendly to anyone.

Seat mats fly through the air

Today’s match was also eventful as we saw Kotooshu (the first European to win the Emperor’s Cup) lose his match as well.

Check out this WSJ article on sumo. It is better than I can report.

The after party

But what I can report that the WSJ can’t is that I had dinner with at least two of the competitors at their Nagoya training temple! How about that? Pretty cool. Shuji talked to his friend and he invited us to the temple to join them for dinner including chanko nabe (a typical sumo meal). Apparently it is rare to be invited to a “heya” or training house. It took us a while to find the place – the cab driver and Shuji had a failure to communicate. Shuji got one part of the name of the area wrong and the taxi driver kept giving Shuji a hard time. He sounded pretty rude to me. We finally got to the general area and the taxi driver dropped us off at a temple. The WRONG temple, but it was a start. We wandered down the street a little bit and found another temple. Shuji learned it was the correct temple and we wandered back into a wooded area and then stumbled upon a sumo ring on the temple grounds.

The training ring

We entered into the temple and it was a typical tatami room full of very, very, very large men in shorts and an occasional t-shirt. There were two tables set up on the floor. Not even tables, really, but discs on the floor with mats around them. We were assigned four seats and then served food while the younger wrestlers waited. One of my colleagues was uncomfortable and didn’t want to eat until everybody started eating. It was a little uncomfortable to dig in while others stood around, but it was also the expectation. So I dug in – no problem! I can’t imagine the food budget. I’m sure the four of us counted as one wrestler. We enjoyed some sashimi, eggs, fried something, fried pork, chanko nabe, rice, and beer. In moderation it was fine. It was quite a unique experience though, and I think a very rare opportunity. I wasn’t really sure of the protocol and how much I should speak and to whom I could or could not speak with. Once they discovered I could speak Japanese folks got a little friendlier. Today is the first day of the 15 day match, so it really was nice of them to allow us to join. Here’s a picture of Steve, Adryan, Shuji’s Mongolian friend, Shuji, and Shuji’s Japanese friend. The shiner on Shuji’s friend is from training – not today’s match. They don’t look so big in the picture. But trust me, they are.

Shuji's sumo friends

I have a picture goofing with one of the guys, both flexing for the camera. Which one is the sumo wrestler?

Who's the wrestler?

Tonight was a rare opportunity – I certainly know that. It will be a special night that I will always remember. These guys live sumo 24 x 7.