Sunday, March 12, 2006

Now that's a wholelotta man

It was all very rushed and last minute and the weather was crappy... but I'm so glad we ended up going.
Today Sue Yen and I headed into Osaka for the 2006 March (Spring) Grand Sumo Tournament. With only my English version print outs from the official website and not knowing what to expect, we were lucky enough to get our tickets at the front entrance and had a great time.
Watching a sumo tournament has always been on my things-to-do-in-Japan list. There are 6 Grand Tournaments a year (3 in Tokyo, 1 in Osaka, 1 in Nagoya and 1 in Kyushu) and since my adventures in Japan will be rounding up soon, it was my last chance to catch a tourny in Osaka. Each Grand Tournament lasts 15 days and each sumo wrestler plays one game each day. For a once in a lifetime experience, we forked out 8,500 yen for our 'S' seats. Very glad I did. If the closer seats weren't all sold out, I think I would have even paid more just to get closer to the action.
I've tried watching sumo on TV last year but I didn't get into it and it seemed quite boring. But actually being there and watching it live and surrounded by the crowd, you really do get caught up in it all and now I love it! I was cheering and clapping and sucking in my breath and posing like a hardcore fan. There was one chick sitting near us who was totally mental! She keep on yelling out things and singing/chanting loudly. Sue Yen gave her up to 3pm to settle down, I had her down for 5pm for her voice to go but nope, she was at it ALL throughout the tournament. Her voice was straining but still loud (and eventually annoying and hurting our ears) nonetheless.
The sumo tournament is an all day affair. Officially from 9.30am to 6pm with the lower rankings starting out and then the big guns (and most popular matches) starting around 3pm. Once you enter, you can only re-enter once. So we went in and got shown our seats (by my student!! Two of my girls were working there. Hazukashii!), took some photos - it was really quite empty, went out and grabbed some lunch, did some shopping and then returned by 3pm.
With one of my students
With my new two best mates, Asashoryu (grand champion) and some other high ranking dude
Sake sponsors
At the entrance of Osaka basho, fans line up to take photos of and see their favourite sumo wrestlers. It was like celebrity stalking on the red carpet, minus the red carpet.
Some dude making an entrance

Some other guy
Before we re-entered we dropped in at a nearby Family Mart to pick up some snackage. While in there, two sumo guys strolled in to buy water and an umbrella. I really wanted to take a photo but wasn't fast enough. Yes, sumo wrestlers are like normal people and get thirsty and forget to bring an umbrella and get caught in the rain. They looked so cute in their big kimonos and slippers with their hair slicked back into an o-ichi-mage or chon-mage top knot (different hairstyles for different sumo rankings).

Let's get ready to ruuuumble!

In shikiri mode (mind games)

Looks like I've been superimposed, cut & pasted into this photo

You can't really tell by the photo but I just had to take it because Sue Yen suddenly goes, "Oh my goodness! That guy looks like Fat Bastard. Exactly. Like, really!" hahaha I guess because of his sideburns, allthough he had black hair. I couldn't stop laughing and both of the them had big sideburns but the guy in the maroon mawashi (sumo loincloth) looked more like FB.

Opening ceremony bowing

The dohyo-iri ('entering the ring') ceremony with the maku-uchi rikishi (the highest ranking competitors) in their kesho-mawashi (ceremonial aprons made of silk with gold fringing and said to cost from 400,000 yen!) One guy's apron had flashing lights on it! It was a bit weird like Christmas decoration-y and rave-y - he just needed the glowsticks, others had more traditional 'Japanese' pictures.

Asashoryu performing part of the dohyo-iri ceremony with a sword bearer and attendent

The judges, dressed in formal black kimono, come up to decide the winner after a close game - we were hoping for a "REEEEE-MATCH!!!"

The guy standing is Kotooshu from Bulgaria. He can be seen on many TV commercials and variety shows. He seems to be quite popular but we rooted for him because we recognised his face and he's a foreigner haha and he won.

Takami Sakari is another popular sumo wrestler with the crowd. While another match was going on, he entered the arena and the crowd went off. His affectionate nickname from the Japanese is 'Robocop.' I guess because of his robotic walk or strut and he likes to psyche himself up and get the crowd excited by smacking himself in the face and putting on a show. He rocked. I affectionately call him 'Angry sumo man'.

Next in the ring - Asashoryu! This was the last match for the day. All those flags are bought by sponsors - the more the sponsors, the more the prize money for that match. My adult students told me that each flag costs about 60, 000 yen.

The Yumitori-shiki (bow dance ceremony) performed at the end

All sumo-ed out but definately worth the experince, and we've got the "We love sumo" t-shirts to prove it!


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