On May 23rd (told you I was behind) Brett and I went to a Sumo Wrestling Tournament in downtown Tokyo. This is us standing outside the stadium. I think I resemble the wrestlers- at least in the belly area these days!
Neither of us know anything about this sport mind you (or really care) but nothing says "Japan" like sumo. We went with the ITT Tours group on base- you can buy tickets for various events there and they provide the transportation, tickets, etc. which makes it very easy to do. We boarded the bus around noon, and were off for the hour drive to the sumo stadium. We found out that several guys from Brett's squadron had also signed up for the event, so it was fun to have a little group to talk to and sit with. On the way there, a man on the bus started telling us all about sumo. Apparently he had lived in Japan since he was a child (although he is American) and is a huge sumo fan. He knew all about the rules and regulations and wrestlers. A few facts we learned:
*Most wrestlers start around age 15, and are basically the "slave" to the higher up wrestlers in their stable (what they call the different groups- like a karate dojo) until they work their way up in the sumo world.
*There are several levels of wrestling (think ameatur, semi-pro, pro...)
*There have been American wrestlers, but currently there aren't any. There are Bulgarian and Japanese and Russian and a few others though.
*The wrestlers come out and throw salt on themselves and in the ring to "purify", as sumo goes back to a way to worship the Gods originally. See the white stuff on the ground? That's the salt.
*Matches start when both wrestlers are ready, are watched over by a referee in the ring and judges on the sides, and ends when either someone steps out of the ring or touches the ground with anything other than their foot. There are wresting techniques, and most matches only last 20-30 seconds, although they can go on longer.
Once we got to the stadium, we found our seats and got Bento Boxes for lunch. Those are popular in Japan- it's basically a lunch box w/ lots of various food in it- Japanese style of course, so some of it we had no idea what it was. The various types were named after the wrestlers. Here is my lunch- I can identify about 5 items and I think I ate maybe 3 of those- I'm such a picky American. Where were the hotdogs and beer? :)
Then we sat back and watched sumo. This is a picture of all the wrestlers in one "level" who are getting ready for their matches. They are all introduced to the crowd (in Japanese of course). It got better towards the end as that is when the ozeki wrestlers (2nd to top level) and highest level wrestlers (don't remember what they are called) fought. I have to admit, we were cheering at the end for the various people to win. Brett had a guy picked out that he thought looked like Jim Bellushi. He was Bulgarian and Brett was cheering for the "Bulgarian Beauty" to win- hahaha! Although I couldn't tell you their names now, it was fun and we got into it. We rented the headphones that told you what was happening in English, so that made it a bit easier to follow along. This was day 14 of a 15 day tournament (and there are 6 tournaments/year), so the next day we found the end of the tourny on tv, and watched to see who was the overall winner.
It isn't a sport I can really see myself getting into and following (I mean, in the end, it is a bunch of really large, scantily-clad men pushing and shoving each other) but it was fun to watch and experience live. I enjoyed learning a little about it, and seeing where it takes place. And it is one of those things that, had we not done it, I wouldn't really feel like we "did" Japan!