Taiwan and Japan

2015 - 2016

Day 15

Sumo Wrestling

Today we had an easy morning and met up for a late breakfast at a cafe down the street. Ended up having some sandwiches, juice and a chocolate danish - so healthy! We’ve been eating a lot of junk food on this trip and I’m actually looking forward to getting back to my usual diet.

We were joining a tour group today to go see the sumo wrestling! We had to be at the Hamamatsucho bus stop by 1:40 so we walked to Shinjukugyoen-Mae station and caught a metro train to Ginza Station where we changed over to the a JR train to go to Hamamatsucho Station. From here we walked around to the bus stop where we met our tour guide, the rest of our group and the other people on the tour.

Once everyone had arrived our tour guide introduced herself and explained where we would be going and some of the basics about sumo wrestling. She gave a little bit of information now and more when we arrived at the stadium. She explained that there are six tiers for sumo wrestlers and only wrestlers in the top two tiers actually get paid. She also explained that the top three wrestlers were actually from Mongolia, but there is a very promising wrestler that the Japanese people hope will be able to make it to the top three one day and he happened to be scheduled on for today. Any wrestler can climb the tiers if they are good enough, but when you lose matches you actually get demoted back, however if you are already at the top tier and lose so many matches, instead of going down tiers you must retire instead! Very harsh penalties!

Our guide handed out train tickets and we went back inside the station to catch a train to Akihabara and then change trains to go to Ryogoku where the stadium was. The whole train station was sumo themed with memorabilia on all the walls. On the floor was a design that showed what the ring looked like, so our guide got a volunteer from our group (Rob) and showed us how the ring worked and good demonstration of how the wrestlers stand, stamp their feet and start a bout!

As we walked from the station to the stadium there were some small market stalls and a little further up were banks of people along the footpath behind ropes waiting for the famous sumo wrestlers to arrive and walk to the stadium but because we were going into the stadium too we got to take that same walk. Our guide called this our red carpet experience.

We got our entry tickets from our guide and headed into the courtyard area of the stadium. We had a quick look around, got a group photo taken and went inside.

Once inside there was a small museum, some stalls to buy food and drinks and some booths where you could organise a little gift bag to be delivered to your seat midway through the event but you had to book fairly early in advance. In the gift bags were bento boxes, snacks, drinks, desserts and souvenirs.

Our guide explained that the winners were heavily rewarded for championship wins including lots of prizes, all the trophies in the (large) display cabinet and sponsorship deals like 1 years worth of gas from United Arab Emirates, 1 years worth of Corona and many more along with 10,000,000 Yen!

Sumo wrestling is really popular in Japan, the stadium was pretty full and there were lots of people dressed in traditional clothing as this is a very traditional sport. The stadium looked pretty cool, it was like a mix between the very traditional Japanese style and a modern football stadium. There was a intricately carved wooden roof suspended over the ring and the front row seating was actually small pillows to sit on the floor. We were not used to sitting on the floor for long periods of time and we couldn’t help but think how hard that would be for us, but luckily our seats were a bit more normal for us and much further away.

Our guide explained gave us very helpful explanations as we went. The basic rules of sumo wrestling are simple, you lose if any part of your body touches the ground other than your feet, if you are thrown or if you leave the ring. This means the bouts are very quick, most only lasting 5 seconds or so!
There are also multiple referees and referees also have a rank.
There is the main referee wearing fairly bright traditional clothing and the color of their clothes represents what rank they are. Only the top ranking referees can judge a championship match.
Along the sides of the ring are secondary judges that are called up in the case of an uncertain situation.

Before each bout, there may be a single file line of men carrying banners that do a lap of the ring. Each banner represents 60,000 yen that would go to the winner of the bout. The last match of the day was worth about 2,100,000 yen (35 banners). There were so many banners that they had to do two laps!

The wrestlers take their positions and prepare for their bout. There is usually a small display of foot stamping, slapping and sizing up their opponent before standing at their mark. Once they have had their preparation time, they both reach for their towels. At this point the crowd goes wild because they know the fight is about to start!

Everytime they step into the ring (before and after using the towels), they get a handful of salt and throw in around the dirt packed ring. This is said to be good luck and keep the bad spirits away. The stadium goes through kilograms of salt a day! At every spare moment there are also people that sweep the area to keep the ring nice and smooth. It looks a little funny because the wrestler would throw stuff everywhere and then a sweeper will sweep it away and this happens over and over again!

Once both wrestlers are in position, the slowly put their fists on the floor. Once all four fists have touched the ground, the bout has began. Very often, there will be three fists on the ground and one of the wrestlers will call it off and go back to his corner, throw some more salt and then get back in to position. These “false starts” are very frequent!

We watched all the fights and once you knew the rules, it felt as natural as any other sport. We were all betting which wrestler we thought would win and getting food and drink from the stalls. It was a great experience!

Once it was all over, we got stuck in the mass exodus but eventually got back to a station and headed back to Shinjuku to get some dinner. The group were pretty keen on trying this curry chain that was recommended by the other group. I’m not a massive fan of curry and had already had curry once, plus there wasn’t enough room in the restaurant so a few of us went in search of some more options.

We went down a little alley way that would have no more than 2 meters wide and it was lined with lots of tiny restaurants. Went went to this little shop that was being run by an old couple. They looked like they were at retirement age but still working hard keeping the shop running by themselves. There was only one row of seats along a counter that also formed the border of the kitchen - tiny place, but the food was great! Pretty happy with our choice and a great close to the day.