Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sumo, One Entire Day of a Ritual and Spectacle in our 21st century.

I had just finished my third day visiting Japan and I already had had one of the most exciting experiences ever, a Sumo Wrestling Tournament at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Stadium).

Sumo Wrestling is one of the most important sport-spectacles in the world: TV, press and Internet cover every contest and pay and charge for it all over the planet. But Sumo wrestling is also an ancient Japanese ritual which is still alive, deeply alive, thanks to the Japanese idea of tradition and of course thanks to the characteristics of this enormous martial art.

Sumo wrestlers are demigods, they fight to put the universe in order, they dance, they work religiously to be perfect, the biggest, the highest, the strongest, and they are commercial stars. When you see any sumo wrestler you feel small and weak, they must exist because they remember to all us that we are a superior race, because our malleable body (they can become 2 meters-tall and weigh around 120 kilos or more), because we can fight with natural intelligence, it means inside a ritual.

Ritual is part of our unconscious natural science, linked with our corporal roots and impulses, but ritual is also an elaborate game of laws, images, stories only made possible with human intelligence and imagination.

On January 21st 2008, I went to enjoy and to admire an ancient ritual fight, a spectacle and it was a success.

It was the ninth day of competition in this first 2008 tournament, a whole day with opening ceremonies, ritual dances, presentations and of course fighting, spectacular fighting.

I don’t want to write much about it, I experienced this theatrical sport as a spectator, not as a researcher; I’ve tried to analyze the whole program and using it in my future work. I was so impressed by them, by the fighters, those fantastic human bodies using their intelligence to gain a battle, a extremely elaborated ritual battle.

The next paragraphs are copied from the useful brochure (spectator’s manual) the organizers gave us accompanying out tickets, my videos and some comments about what I saw can give a comprehensive idea of my experience that day:

Daily time table for this tournament

8:30 hrs

Doors open

The day begins with the beatings of drums, welcoming fans to the wonderful world of Grand Sumo. You can check the colorful banners with individual wrestler’s names.

8:40 hrs

Preliminary bouts

These are bouts between new sumo trainees yet to be officially ranked.

8:50 hrs

Jonokuchi-Makushita division bouts

The real bouts begin from jonokuchi (the lowest rank), moving up in senority to makushita (junior grade).

14:00 hrs

from around 14:00 hrs, the senior division (makuuchi) wrestlers begin to arrive at the Kokugikan’s South Gate.

We arrived at this moment, so we could see those enormous wrestlers arriving to the stadium and how dozens of fanatics cheers to his favorites.

14:30 hrs

Juryo Wrestlers ceremonial entrance

Decked out in ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi), the intermediate division (juryo) wrestlers enter the ring. Fighters at this rank and above are considered full-fledged salaried sumo professionals.

14:50 hrs

Juryo division bouts

Wrestlers at this level range from young hopefuls aiming for the higher division promotion to weathered veterans of the circuit. These bouts are followed by a short interval known as the nakairi.

And we uses this interval to enjoy some “chanko” at the stadium’s restaurant: a kind of hot pot, a big stew dish with different vegetables and all kind of meat (fish, beef, chicken, seafood), the usual meal for sumo wrestlers. So, I almost finished with the feeling to be shaped like them.

15:30 hrs

Association chairman’s address

On the opening and final days of the tournament the Chairman of the Japanese Sumo Association steps into the ring with the top-ranked wrestlers, welcoming and thanking the crowd.
As our visit was on the ninth day of the tournament we didn’t see this event.

15:50 hrs

Makuuchi wrestlers ceremonial entrance

The wrestlers from the senior division step into the ring in their vividly decorated ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi), turn to face the crowd and form a circle.

This is a big good time for fans to cheer on their favorites wrestlers.

15:55 hrs

Yokozuna Grand Champion ring entrance

The grand champion (yokozuna) each make a ceremonial entrance in the ring, accompanied by two attendants. The Champions clap their hands and stamp their feet, drawing spirited calls from the crowd.

A very interesting moment. You see how different cultures we are.

16:15 hrs

Makuuchi bouts

Battles between the highest division wrestlers begin at the last.

The bout featuring the wrestlers at the top ranks generally begin form about 17:30. And that is the video I could recorded in two different angles, so you can appreciate most. They are the big winner (till that moment), Hakuho, fighting with a lower one, Wakanosato. Of course Hakuho was the winner.

17:15 hrs
Final-day top-ranked-wrestler ritual

On the final day of the tournament , the top three wrestlers from both the east and West sides step into the ring, and perform a brief ceremony heralding the climax of the 15-day event.

As we were on the ninth day we didn’t see that ceremony. Pity.

17:55 hrs

Bow dance ceremony

After the final bout each day, a lower-ranked wrestler enters the ring to perform the bow dance (yumitori-shiki).

Another really strange but interesting moment, you can see his ritualistic movements and enjoy how the people shout when the wrestler’s foot falls onto the sand.


The sounds of distinctive drumming also rings out this time encouraging fans to come again (till the last day of the tournament).


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