Monday, January 18, 2010

Sumo Wrestling in Tokyo. Or, omg its so great to hang out with people who speak English.

So a lower year nano friend of mine named Jess Sparks happens to be working in Japan for NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephony), doing biochemistry of all things. Anyway, she?s got a bunch of compatriots (not sure if I?ve ever used that word intending the literal meaning before ? awesome) over there at NTT, and they were going into Tokyo to watch one of the two annual Sumo tournaments, followed by a night on the town.

Naturally I was invited and enthusiastically agreed to join them. The furthest away from home I?ve gone is Yokohama city on a quest to find cheesecake, so I hadn?t had the pleasure of encountering Tokyo yet. The NTT people were all coming together, and planned to meet me at the subway station closest to the Ryogoku Sumo stadium.

I braved the Tokyo public transit system for the first time, and I know I?m going to say this about a billion more times, but it?s fantastic. I gave myself like a half hour of buffer time just in case I encountered unforeseen delays or got lost, but somehow I ended up at my destination earlier than Google thought possible, and I even got lost once. Luckily my Japanese is adequate for asking passers-by which direction the train is going.. One noticeable failing of the Tokyo transit system is that though the station names are usually in Romaji or Hiragana, the directions are often in Kanji only. I?ve upped my Kanji-vocabulary quite a bit already, so I don?t foresee it being a problem for long.

So after some brief and delightfully not-Japanese introductions, we headed to an awesome Japanese fast food joint where you order from a vending machine. Then to the Tokyo-Edo museum, which quite boringly tells the story of Edo/Tokyo from its modest beginnings as a fishing village to the American firebombings in WW2. I was recommended by no less than 4 people to go to this museum, but take my word on it? Go up the awesome epic stairs; look at the building infront/above you. Maybe go up the sweet escalator-without-steps a few times. Then leave. You?re done, free of charge.

Now to the meat of the matter: Sumo. Its pretty expensive guys, we were in the second worst seats in the house, and it was still almost 50 bucks each for tickets. But it only happens a couple times a year, so if you?re in the neighborhood, go for it by all available means. For those who know me, you know I don?t enjoy watching sports. Its boring, largely uneventful and the seating is usually cramped.

Here comes the expected twist! Sumo is fantastic. At less competitive levels (those who go near the beginning of the day), its perhaps 50-60% ceremony. At the title rounds at the end of the day, its pushing 95% ceremony. These ceremonies involve these massive guys hulking all over the clay-ring, lifting their legs, throwing salt all over the place in an aggressive fashion, slapping their bodies repeatedly and very unappealingly, beating their chests to rile up the audience, washing their bodies/armpits with a towel, FOLLOWED by aggressively washing their faces with said towel. These events culminate in the two contestants lined up, ready to go. But usually right when the tension is high, thinking they?re about to start, one guy stands up, walks away, and slaps himself nice and hard on the gut. The cycle then repeats.

Each cycle takes maybe 2 or 3 minutes, and can repeat up to 5 or 6 times before a big title fight. The crowd is insane during the ceremony, they can?t get enough of it.

The fight lasts maybe 2-30 seconds, and pretty much just involves one guy pushing the other outside of the ring or onto the floor. Sometimes it gets intense with slapping contests between the guys, or feints and rolls. Notably, its usually small and nimble wins the race. Unless you?re a buff-as-hell, 6 foot 5, 207kg Bulgarian monstrosity. Then you pick up the little fat-as-hell Sumo-wrestler looking Japanese man infront of you, and drop him outside the ring. ?GAIJIN SMASH?

Afterwards we went to get all you can eat Korean BBQ, after which my NTT buddies abandoned me in the middle of downtown Tokyo to find my way home. Thanks guys, that was a chore.

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