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Here’s what it’s like to go to a Sumo tournament in Japan

During the last week I have been travelling Japan’s cities of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka. It has been incredible, and I can’t wait to write about all of it. I am going to start by telling you about what it’s like to go to a sumo fight as a tourist, and having never seen one before.

First of all, ¿what exactly is Sumo fighting? The rules are simple: one fighter tries to push the other out of a circle, or get him to touch any part of his body other than the soles of his feet to the ground. Step out of the circle, he’s out; touch the ground, he’s out.

There’s a lot going on all the time in sumo fights, and it can be extremely confusing for foreigners who don’t speak japanese, like me. It was all kinds of adjectives to attend this thing: amusing, interesting, educating, confusing, heated… Let’s start at the very beginning.

This time around, the Sumo tournament took place in the city of Osaka in Edion Arena, where a crowd was gathered at the entrance to watch the Sumo fighters arrive. At the entrance we were given a brochure with the schedule, and each fighter’s current ranking in wins and losses.

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I made my way up to my seat with the help of the vendors inside the arena because I was at a complete loss of where I was at this point amongst the crowds. I had a very good seat! Although it was high up and not super-close, I had a perfect view of the arena. The seat was a standard stadium chair, but the seats down below were actually pillows, with shoes off, Japanese style.

The people were excited and eager, even if the real deal hadn’t quite started yet. The tickets can be used at any time of the day, but most people arrive around 2:30 to watch the top fighters. We were getting pumped up for the fights, except for this guy:

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He was tired then, but when the next division started the fights, he was up and cheering! As the matches kept going, the arena kept getting packed until there were no seats left empty, and thus the third division matches began.

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In marched the fighters, each wearing a distinctive robe around their waist.

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All the fighters in the division join the circle, doing somewhat of a ritual routine, before descending from the arena in a line to go back to the dressing rooms, where they’ll wait for their match to begin. This panel keeps track of the matches, wins, and losses:

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Here’s how a sumo match goes down:

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This guy comes out and sings to the fan. I never did figure out exactly what that was all about, but I assume he was singing the names of the fighters, maybe?

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The fighters each take their place on the east or west side of the arena and perform a pre-match ritual which can take a few minutes. To start the match, both fighters must touch the ground with their fists to signal that they’re ready.

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This is the “referee” of the match. He changes every once in a while and wears fancy, colourful dresses like the one above. He, along with the judges (the guy in black behind him; there’s a judge on each side of the arena), observes the fighters closely to regulate the match. He is also the one who presents the winning fighter with his recognition.

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Once both fighters have touched their fists to the ground the match starts. It can take as long as two seconds to a few minutes in rare cases. If either of them steps out of the circle or touches any part of their body other than their feet to the ground, they lose.

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There are tough falls.

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In case both fighters fell over and not all judges agree who came down first, they reunite in a very serious circle in the arena to discuss the outcome, after which the referee will present the winner with his recognition. Surprisingly, no one argues or complains.

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And there’s a lot going on between matches. The arena is constantly swept and watered by a team who works the entire day to keep it properly maintained for the matches.

When I first read about the possibility of going to a sumo match of Nomadic Matt‘s travel guides, I knew I couldn’t go to Japan without attending one. The trouble of getting the tickets was absolutely worth it, and I am now a fan. Seriously, if they broadcasted this on TV, I’d watch. I’d probably love it even more than ice hockey or soccer. The profound ritualism and the tradition that is still present in this sport is amazing, and leaves you in awe of centuries of history that back this sport.

What would I do differently next time? I’d bring a translator so I could understand everything that’s going on, like the singing, or some of the rituals that I never got to comprehend. Overall, I had so much fun going to the sumo tournament. I got to see a new sport I’d never seen before, one mixed with important culture, and saw yet another side of Japan. So is it worth going to a sumo match on your trip to Japan? Hell yeah.

Check back on this post in a few days for a video of one of the matches! 

5 Comments

  1. Pingback: A year in review: 2016, the year most travelled (so far) | Fernanda Was Here

  2. Pingback: Top 5 things to do in the city of Osaka – Fernanda Was Here

      • He is only 7 but he is fascinated with Wrestling though I tell you he never watch it at home but he listened with his school mates about it and saw it from time to time on TV ads. :(

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