Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sumo Wrestling in Japan (Video)

(This blog post is a bit overdue, but I wanted to share a great experience we had on our trip to Japan).

Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan.  Only six tournaments or “bashos” are held a year.  The timing of our trip this past September was perfect to attend the basho in Tokyo.  We got off the plane and headed straight for the National Sumo Stadium. 

Now…I wasn’t a sumo fan in advance, and about the only knowledge I had of the sport was strapping on a fat sumo suit in college and wrestling with a roommate.  Big men wearing a diaper-like contraption wrestled each other…oh, and it was a Japanese sport.  Yep, that was the extent of my knowledge.  Well, I’m happy to say I’m now much better educated on the sport of sumo…and I’m also a fan.

First, sumo wrestling is exciting.  The matches are very short.  In seconds one opponent has been knocked down or out of the ring.  These men hit each other like NFL linemen, except without the pads.  Their force and agility is impressive.  There are surprises and upsets that have you shouting with surprise in your seat.

It’s not just the fighting that’s exciting, but the ritual and ceremony before each match. The men throw handfuls of salt into the ring to purify it.  The wrestlers then walk to the center of the ring to squat in the famous sumo stance to stare each other down.  They rise again…and return for several more rounds of intimidation before the fight starts.  There’s the wrestlers ceremonial entrance, the grand champions dance, and the bow dance to call to an end the days fighting; they’re all beautiful time honored traditions. 

The wrestlers have names like Hakuho or Tokusegawa.  The names are foreign to us, but they are sports stars in Japan just like we all know the name Peyton Manning in America.  What I saw was how these stars are revered, but accessible.  I ended up walking beside three giant wrestlers after they got out of a taxi (a taxi!).  Dressed in cotton kimonos known as yukata with their hair slicked back in traditional hairstyles these men are hard to miss.  We passed wrestlers walking in the arena.  I even saw one standing in line with the fans to get some food.  I have to admit…I was a little star struck.

The history and traditions of the sport are fascinating, while the wrestling itself is fun.  It was the first thing we did in Japan, and I instantly knew it would also be a highlight of our trip.  I was right.

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