A little belatedly, here are some pics and videos from a trip to the Ryoguku Kokugikan, the national sumo stadium in East Tokyo. Sumo isn’t an element of Japanese culture than I know all that well, honestly, but it’s a very deeply ingrained part of it. Sumo is as much a religion as a sport in many ways – Shinto is deeply woven into the fabric of it, right down to the rope barrier surrounding the ring and gabled shrine roof hanging from the ceiling.
It’s quite an experience seeing one of the major tournaments at the Kokugikan. The Japanese fans really get into the sport – all of the top sumo have their own fans – and the men themselves are a sight to behold. Many are truly enormous, yet their dexterity in the ring is surprising. My favorite part might just be the judges (if that’s what they’re called), who’re dressed in spectacularly colorful priest’s robes and hats.
Another interesting element of sumo is that the combatants can often be seen in the parking lot outside the stadium after their matches are complete, mingling with the fans and posing for pictures. The tournament is a slow build towards the top sumo, the Ozeki and at the very top the Yokozuna, of which there are currently only two (both Mongolian, I believe). In fact, there are now many foreigners in the ranks of top sumo – including several Bulgarians and a Brazilian.
As for the matches themselves, they often only last a couple of seconds, though a few tussles went for 30 seconds or more. Most of the time, in fact, is spent by the sumo trying to psyche each out with false starts and slaps to their own considerable flesh. It might not be the most exciting sport in the world, but for pure exotic ceremony it’s hard to beat.