Salt Throwing and Belly Slaps

So, we are once again in Tokyo with the dual purpose of 1. Seeing a sumo match and 2. Seeing a baseball game. Today was sumo match day!

We were lucky enough to learn about a month and a half ago that the Grand Sumo Tournament would be taking place in Tokyo while we were in town and it was determined right then and there that we would go. Did we know anything about sumo at the time? No, but when has that ever stopped us?

The day started with Doug being very productive and going for a run while Lynn slept some more. We then reconvened in the room and more travel planning took place until around 11 a.m. when it was decided we should get some baseball tickets for tomorrow. We hopped on the JR line 8 stops west, walked to Jingu stadium, home of the Yakult Swallows, and purchased two bleacher tickets.  Done and done. We then had about 1.25 hours until the juryo (division 2) wrestlers would compete so we opted to head back to the hostel area where we would grab some lunch.

When we arrived the day before, one of the hostel receptionists mentioned that there were quite a few chanko, traditional sumo food, restaurants in the area. Doug thought it would be suiting for us to give it a try. Chanko, it turns out, is similar to hot pot/shabu shabu but instead of thin slices of beef you are provided with ground chicken and fish balls. Imagine that you are eating wonton soup, but remove the dough from the wonton and add vegetables and you have chanko. While quite satisfying we couldn’t imagine having to eat it every single day like sumo wrestlers do. Oh, and Doug and I split one so you can imagine how large this men can get.

Chanko pot and ground meat. Our waitress formed the meat into balls and placed them in the pot to be cooked.
Chanko pot and ground meat. Our waitress formed the meat into balls and placed them in the pot to be cooked.
Chanko all cooked and ready to eat!
Chanko all cooked and ready to eat!

After our fill we headed off to the Grand Sumo Tournament just in time to see the makushita (division 3) wrap up. Turns out that this was good because we were able to use the time to educate ourselves with the many many many rituals that must take place before each pair competes. Sumo continues to carry on many traditions from its Shinto past and we were able to witness quite a few over the course of 4 hours through the juryo and makuuchi (division 1) competitions.

Doug's sumo wrestler
Doug’s sumo wrestler
Lynn's sumo wrestler
Lynn’s sumo wrestler

We are going to try to do our best to walk through a single match on a single day of the tournament. Doug also recorded one of the main matches of the night here so its highly recommended that you follow along. Please pardon our lack of official terminology. First the announcer introduces the two competitors by singing. The competitor from the west side is announced first followed by the east side competitor. West competitors and east competitors change daily throughout the tournament. In each match the east competitor is suppose to be the favorite. In this match we have Yoshikaze from the west and Hakuho from the east. The competitors enter the ring and begin the pre-match ritual of arm/leg raises, thigh slaps, and squats which is meant to drive out evil spirits. The competitors then take a sip of “strength water” and wipe their mouths with paper. They then each take a handful of salt and fling it in the ring to purify it. After this process is complete, the competitors enter the ring to complete another series of arm movements meant to demonstrate to the other that they don’t have any weapons and it will be a fair fight.

Preparing for a match
Preparing for a match
And it begins!
And it begins!
Pushing and shoving
Pushing and shoving
Bye bye!
Bye bye!

 

If it is a really good match, you may see a series of people carry banners around the ring while they are doing this pre-match ritual. These banners are actually an indication of sponsorship money that would be given to the victor. The more banners, the richer the winner. In most matches there weren’t any or if there were they were less than 4. This match had 13! The competitors then continue on to drive out evil spirits and taunt their competitor with more salt, belly/thigh slaps, squats, and adjusting. Every once in a while you will get a back stretch or a really big salt throw and the crowd goes wild! The match begins when both competitors touch the ground and the goal is to get the other one out of the ring or have a part of their body that is not their feet touch the ground. We saw many throws, falls, pushes, and slips. No match was the same. In the video you will see Yoshikaze win and the crowd will approve by throwing their cushions. This was the only time this happened over the 4 hours. You see, the Japanese are not happy that the current champion, Hakuho, is from Mongolia and he just got beat by a native! Oh snap! After the win, the victor squats while receiving his money.  We both had a blast watching sumo for 4 hours and would totally do it again given the chance. It’s far more interesting than originally guessed.

We wrapped up the evening by getting our fill of Japanese gyuden fast food (beef and rice bowls) followed by ice cream and crepes (we were craving sweets).

Daily Walking Mileage: 9.35 (Doug) and 4.45 (Lynn)

Fun Facts:

  • Before each sumo division begins their competition they are individually introduced to the arena. You can see the west makuuchi being introduced here.
  • The cloth that the wrestlers wear is 30 ft long. We don’t know if they are responsible for putting in on themselves…
  • Most sumo wrestlers die by the age of 60, so no, it is not a healthy lifestyle.

2 thoughts on “Salt Throwing and Belly Slaps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *