Oozumo Akibasho - enjoying sumo all day long
Banners dying names of wrestlers stand along the fence of Kokugikan liven up the tournament together with drums played on top of a tower to announce the start and ending of tournament.
Hakuho performing Unryu-style dohyoiri
Yokozuna Hakuho won the Aki-Basho (autumnal grand sumo tournament) and with this victory he won four consecutive tournaments with 15-0 straight victories. By the end of Aki-Basho, he won 61 consecutive bouts and approaches the seemingly unbreakable 69 consecutive wins made by Futabayama in the years from 1936 to 1939(1)
- At the time there were only two tournaments in a year.
I hope that the challenge of Hakuho to make a new record will keep fans to sumo and save the Oozumo(2)
from the present crisis caused by a series of scandals. In order to support sumo, I visited Akibasho and watched the arena from its opening in early morning.
- "Oozumo" is the professional league of sumo.
Ryogoku Kokugikan opens at 8:00 in the morning. Tournament matches start at 8:40 and continue without interruption till 18:00. We can enjoy sumo nearly 10 hours with one single ticket, though ordinary fans come only in the evening to see the upper classes of wrestlers. During the stay in Kokugikan we can also visit the attached Sumo Museum, enjoy special events and buy souvenirs. Taking these factors into account, sumo is a very economical entertainment.
The first bout of the day just started!
I felt much sympathy for this big Oorora in Jonidan.
Takarafuji of Isegahamabeya
promoted to Juryo and ended the first tornament in Juryo with the satisfactory result of 9-6.
Matches start with Jonokuchi
division. Their fighting is amateurish and their bodies look like untrained. The quality of sumo improves as wrestlers' position advances. The number of wrestler belonging to Jonokuchi is not big - about 60, but the number of wrestlers belonging to the second lowest division Jonidan
and the next division Sandanme
exceeds 200. Then, there are some 120 wrestlers in the Makushita division.
We can see over hundred matches of these less strong wrestlers before 15:00. Certain people might think that it is boring to see non-star wrestlers. I think that is misunderstanding. The young wrestlers fight with full fighting spirit and it is interesting to find out promising wrestlers in thrilling bouts. I noticed that wrestlers in lower divisions seldom fall down on the ring as we often see in Makuuchi(3)
section. I think this is because of the difference of speed and weight of wrestlers.
- Wrestlers in the highest sections Makuuchi and the second-highest section Juryo are called Sekitori and those wrestlers are in total only about 70.
It is also a fun to find interesting stage names of the wrestlers. I found for example "Kumaou
" (bear king), "Migikata-Agari
" (right shoulder soaring - this is a Japanese expression to describe the situation of good expanding business), and "Orora
" (Aurora written with Chinese characters - by the way, the wrestler Orora is an incredibly fat - (193cm, 273kg) - Russian.
Though lower ranking wrestlers fight as ardently as Sekitori wrestlers, they are treated as trainees. They receive no salary, have to serve Sekitori, do all kinds of support works in stables and live in a big room together with all other non-Sekitori wrestlers. They fight only 7 matches - 7 days - in one tournament.
They are discriminated against Sekitori also on the ring: for example hair style, color of loincloth (mawashi), strings hanging from mawashi (sagari), time allowance for pre-match ritual (shikiri) and use of salt for shikiri. If you see matches of lower ranking sumo wrestlers, you might think "this is not sumo". Yes, the particular style and fashion which are allowed only to Sekitori adds strong cultural elements to sumo and enhance its charm.
Among the wrestlers in lower divisions there are not only young beginners, but also veterans. I sometimes wonder why they stay in Oozumo though they cannot live a comfortable life as long as they stay under Juryo
. Maybe, sumo might have an addictive charm which keeps them in its world.
I noticed that in these lower divisions the overwhelming majority are Japanese wrestlers - Orora is one of the exceptional cases. Maybe foreign wrestlers have more hungry spirit and climb the ladder of success much more speedily.
Sumo is nowadays more and more interpreted as sports. But, the professional sumo tournament started as a sort of show business. In the process of development, the professional sumo tournament - Oozumo - added elements associating it with the ancient sumo festivals sponsored by the emperor. One typical example is "Yokozuna". Yokozuna was created by a judge family Yoshida first in 1791. However, it was at the beginning merely an honorary status to attract people with a special show - dohyoiri - and only in the Meiji period Yokozuna was accepted as the highest rank higher than Ozeki.
The old Kokugikan
Oozumo succeeded in obtaining the labeling "national sports" when the first indoor arena Kokugikan(4)
was built in 1906 on the ground of Ekoin, a temple only a few hundred meter south from the present Kokugikan. Before the building of the old Kokugikan, the open-air arena on the ground of Ekoin was already used for sumo tournaments since 1781. Thus, sumo is at home in Ryogoku. Even now not only Kokugikan, but also some old stables are located in Ryogoku and it is not unusual to see sumo wrestlers strolling on the streets of Ryogoku.
- "Kokugi" means national sports.
Dohyoiri by Makuuchi wrestlers
Sumo wrestlers on their way to and back from Kokugikan
Sumo wrestler - a part of the landscape of Ryogoku
Sumo now faces a crisis of existence. The immediate cause of the present crisis is the involvement of wrestlers and coaches in a baseball gambling which was obviously organized by yakuza. However, if we take a slightly longer time span, a series of scandals already shook the framework of the professional sumo world, including misbehaviors of the former Yokozuna Asashoryu, drug abuse by wrestlers and the brutal beating death of a young wrestler. However, the loss of the popularity of sumo in recent years was more fundamentally because of the lack of topflight Japanese wrestlers to cheer for.
In any case, I am a great fan of sumo and want to support sumo in its difficult time. Therefore, I bought expensive Box Seat tickets for the 9th day and watched sumo matches from the very beginning to the end.