Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sumo has football beat all to hell

Close-up of a sumo, pre-tournament match
American football is considered the national sport of the USA.  It used to be baseball but several years ago, football took over for the sheer spectacle, the force, the length of season, the size of the players, the passion of the fans and owners.  A few years ago, I drank the Kool-Aid and enjoyed football a lot.  I still do like it but no longer have the same fascination.  The radio's as good as the TV for play-by-play and evening-news or internet highlights are another good option should I be participating in life as we know it.

In  Japan, the national sport is sumo wrestling.  Not baseball, which came to Japan when it was invented, long, long ago, but sumo which came to Japan even longer ago.  When I was on vacation, I went to a tournament.  I am someone who can enjoy a competition with specific rules so I totally understand the fascination.

The actual matches don't last more than a few seconds.  The last matches of the day were between the highest levels of sumos.  It was strength, training, ability, intelligence, agility, and concentration against another man who had the same qualities.  Sometimes they'd hit each other so hard they'd go sailing out of the ring, airborne, landing on the front row (where other sumos sit).  That's a lot of flying beef, my friends.

The whole spectacle of the parade of the wrestlers and the traditional motions they go through while they're standing in the ring, in unison, is terrific.  There is a parade of sponsors before each match.  Sometimes there are many sponsors -- Endo, a young Japanese top-tier wrestler, had 21 sponsors -- and sometimes there are one or none.  The winner of the match takes it all.  There is synchronized breathing and concentration.  More concentration.  More breathing.  Salt is tossed in the air by each Sumo to purify the ring.  They clap their hands once to ask the attention of the Gods so they're not alone in the battle.  They drink water to cleanse their bodies; they stamp in the ring to ward off evil spirits.  No, this the exact order and these things can happen more than once. It begins finally when both wrestlers put their fists on the ground and the referee yells, "Hakkeyoi!" The match is over when something other than the soles of the feet touches dirt or someone steps out of the ring.  Of course if your mawashi (the "belt" that covers up the male action) comes undone, if you use an illegal move like kicking or punching, or if you don't show up, then you've lost.

Both wrestlers sailed out of the ring in at least two matches and the five judges gathered in the ring and discussed who won. In one case, the sumos had to go again; in the other, the sumo who hit the ground first was the loser.  The referee wears a knife on his belt; it signifies that he would rather fall on his knife than make a mistake in his duties.

No woman can ever enter the ring.  The present head of all of sumo is a woman and she can never enter the ring, even to present awards.  (She understands and accepts the tradition and is okay with it and you should be, too.  It is their tradition.  Don't get all feminist on their behalf.)

When the two sumos enter their battle, they are shown as East and West on the board and it shows up on the board only as East or West.  You have to pay attention to who is wrestling at a sumo tournament.

Below are a few pictures and they're acceptable to me and shows what it is like.  If there's ever a sumo tournament on American network TV, I will watch it, but since I don't have cable, it's sort of unlikely.

No matter the sport, a tourist will cuddle up.  (Nope, this isn't me.)

"Lady, leave me alone.  Seriously."

The judges convene to determine who touched dirt first.
Panorama of the sumo stadium (from my seat which wasn't so close but wasn't in the rafters either).
After the parade of the sumos, before the match begins, they present themselves to the crowd.

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