March 15, 2008


Today, we went to the Osaka Sumo Tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. We went with a large contingent of other ex-pat families that live in the Kobe area, many of whom we had met over the past few months. Sumo comes to Osaka once per year (in March), and this was day seven of the fifteen-day tournament.

The rikishi (sumo wrestlers) each fight once per day, and the rikishi with the best win/loss record at the end of the tournament is awarded the Emperor's Cup. Rikishi are divided into official ranking groups (which are re-jiggered based upon performance during the tournaments). The matches between lower ranked fighters are early in the day, while the higher-ranked matches are towards the end. The object is to throw your opponent outside the ring (the dohyo) or force him to touch the ground with any part of his body. The matches can last anywhere from 2 seconds to 30-40 seconds. But the pre-match ritual gestures, rituals, and foot-stomping last much much longer. (This part is actually pretty cool.) In between the morning and afternoon matches there are several processions of all the rikishi, and some really cool rituals performed by a yokozuna (a rikishi at the top of the rankings food chain). Here are a couple of videos (the first of a particularly great pre-match and match, the second of the yokozuna ritual ceremony described above):

The sumo wrestlers are like rock stars, but they also walk among the people, entering the gym through the front doors and stopping to talk to people, take pictures, and sign autographs. We also saw a bunch of sumo wrestlers in their traditional robes and wooden shoes, just walking down the street outside the gym.

The event starts early in the morning, around 8 AM. We arrived at around 2 PM, with the gym still mostly empty. But the gym completely filled up by 4 PM, when the big matches were happening. You can really feel the buzz and momentum build throughout the day. Most Japanese sat on pillows in box seats, and got massive amounts of sophisticated foods and sake delivered right to their seats. (We brought peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches.)

The kids (and us) were really wowed by the whole experience. It was really interesting and fun. These guys really are athletes, with unbelievable core strength and amazing balance. Another interesting aspect of sumo is there are no weight classes. So you can get little guys against big guys. Sometimes the little guys used guile and their (relative) quickness to beat the bigger guys. Other times, you get two goliaths just mashing each other. One giant got badly injured in the initial slamming together and got carted off in the biggest wheelchair we had ever seen.

After Sumo, we wandered through the Fifth Avenue-Esqe Namba area of Osaka (one of its two centers, with the other being Umeda). We we looking for a particular restaurant we had seen a write-up on called Slices Cafe, claiming traditional American-style pizza. And we found it. Jacob had calzone and the rest of us had pizza. We shared a banana split for dessert, capping off a terrific day. The funniest thing about our dinner at Slices was that it was a very popular foreigner spot. We had a table by the door. And every time an American (or non-Japanese) person walked in, Jacob smiled and said "Hi!" He really welcomed speaking to people in public in English!

*Note - to all our faithful readers, we are off to Thailand for vacation on Tuesday. We may get a chance to post in Thailand, but its not likely. In all events, we will be back online and posting when we return to Japan*

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