Today required an early start. Which given it’s a Sunday, our last full day of the trip and we don’t like early starts means there must be a good reason.
There are only 12 Tournaments a year, spread across the whole country, so we are fortunate that one falls when we are in the same place. Tickets are popular and were all sold out well in advance, leaving the only option of queuing in the morning in hope that we get some of the 450 unreserved tickets sold on the day.
That said we still hit snooze three times on the alarm clock but finally get ourselves up and out in time to arrive the ticket office by about 7:45. We were very glad we didn’t go for a fourth snooze as we pick up tickets 320 and 321 and another 10 minutes would have seen us missing out.
Entering the huge Ryōgoku Kokugikan arena, which is about the same capacity as Wimbledon’s centre court, but with an even smaller area of focus, is impressive. We pop our heads in to see the first few bouts in a quiet and reverential atmosphere but at this time of day it’s just the small amateur guys at this stage so we leave it until later in the day and manage to head back to the Sky Tree to complete our visit.
Timings and weather are kind and we manage to get to the viewing platform at 451.2 metres to see spectacular views across the city and even get to glimpse Fuji-san in the distance with its famous snow coverered volcanic peak. This is the 3rd highest viewing platform in the world, and adds nicely to the 2nd and 9th that we have seen already on this trip.
A walk back down the river gets us to the Sumo arena in time to see the big boys arriving through the same gate as we use to re-enter. We feel slightly uncomfortable walking past all the crowds with their cameras poised for the next wrester, the method of whose arrival is notable. There cannot be many major stars from the world of sport who walk to the venue, particularly wearing the traditional wooden sandals, socks and Kimono combination.
Back in the arena it is now almost full and the wrestlers now entering the ring (or Dohyo) are professionals. Like all professional wrestlers, it seems the Sumo variety are not shy on the old flouncing and strutting around like Peacocks and generally making quite a fuss of it all.
The early functional approach of get on, get it done, get off is replaced by serious gamesmanship and psychological warfare. On average it takes around 4 attempts of hunkering down before they actually go for it, with each failed attempt met by more stretching, slapping of various parts of their anatomy and lobbing of salt into the ring (something to do with cleansing the area).
Bouts themselves are short and fascinating. Two huge guys going up against each other and trying to repeat E.Honda’s classic 1,000 Hand Slap move before dumping their opponent to the ground or out of the ring (which can be a shock to some people in the most expensive seats in the house closest to the ring). Its raw, powerful and absorbing.
Another change with going professional is apparently snazzy clothes. There are a large number that appear to have got shiny silk nappies on. Not that I’d say that to their faces. These guys are huge. Not just big from a Japanese build point of view, but really really big. The guys that weigh in at 130kg mark (over 20 stones) are made to look like Walter the Softy when facing an opponent weighing over 200kg (or 31 stones!!!).
You sense that if any of them were Goonies fans then we’d be treated to the best Truffle Shuffle ever.