June 3, 2013

The East Japan Student Sumo Tournament

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a sumo tournament at the Ryogoku Sumo Hall, where all the major sumo competitions are held.

Sumo is shown regularly on television, but I'd never seen it in person. This was a sumo competition for university students in eastern Japan.

Traditionally, you were supposed to sit with your legs tucked beneath you, but not many people were doing that. Since this is Japan, there were a handful of people sleeping, stretched out in their allotted space. On very crowded occasions, four people sit in a square, but that day, most people were treating their spaces like a plot of land at a picnic.

In the group competition, five players from a university were pitted against each other, and the overall tally of wins allowed them to advance to the next round.

We started watching with the start of the Level B competition. (A was the best group, C was the lowest.) You could tell these players weren't betting their career on being sumo players. Some of them were merely wiry men. In one instance, one relatively large player simply lifted up his scrawnier opponent and carried him outside the circle.

Many of the matches barely lasted ten seconds, but towards the semi-finals for Level B, as the opponents became better-matched, there were some genuinely exciting moments.

As you can see, the players got bigger as the day progressed. An interesting thing about size, though: up to a certain level, the winner was most often the bigger player. However, as the level of players got higher, I noticed that the strongest players were those whose girth were made of pure muscle. As a general rule, if your man breasts are swinging around, it means you don't have enough muscle, and that is a liability in the long run.

Sweepers making the mound even in between matches.

Players made their pilgrimage up to certain people to pay their respects. Some opted to wear warm-up jackets, but quit hilariously, they didn't cover up their mawashi  (the loincloth-like fabric they wear).

On occasion, a bunch of referees were called in to make a decision on the winner.

Two players, deadlocked. I didn't watch till the end, but it seemed the strongest schools were Nihon University, Nippon Sport Science University, and Toyo University. Nihon University had a very long streak of winning the group competition, but in recent years they have been eclipsed by Nippon Sport Science University.

Sumo-related souvenirs.

There was a small shrine right outside the building.

Sumo players out in the real world.

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