Here is a very rushed, casual letter I wrote to my best friend from home about an experience three weeks ago. At the time I knew very little about sumo, so I would recommend looking it up “properly” before or after reading my account! Hopefully soon I can do proper research and rewrite this to properly describe the glory that is the sumo tradition.
So sorry I didn’t get time to write anything to you until now… Hopefully you’ll see this before you leave, but if not you can read it after you arrive haha…
Yesterday all day I was out to watch a sumo tournament at the Ryogoku Kokujikan, the largest sumo venue in Tokyo. It was amazing. Whenever I heard about it or saw it on TV or wherever in America, I always thought it was kind of funny, but it was absolutely amazing to see in person. These guys are enormous.. just walls of pure muscle. I’d probably pee my pants if I stood a foot away from a sumo wrestler in his (lack of) traditional garb.
Before each round, all of the wrestlers come out dressed from the waist down in what I can only describe as a small tapestry (not quite a robe) designed by their sponsors. They are always elaborately made and beautiful. They step into the ring as their names are called and walk around slowly. Then after they are all in the ring they do a short ritual of clapping together once, raising their arms, squatting, and lifting their tapestry/rug/skirt-things. Then they walk off, and the other group of opponents is introduced.
Before a bout, a man in traditional hakama (clothing) comes out to the middle of the ring and sings out their names– who has come from the East, and who comes from the West. It sounds like a traditional player. (sic haha.. I meant to say “prayer”. After 3 months in Japan Engrish is already setting in!)
Bouts themselves are super quick, lasting usually less than fifteen seconds. Sometimes they are over in as little as 3 seconds! If you lose your balance for half a second you will be pushed down into the floor or thrown around by your opponent.
Sometimes there is a lot of hand-action, with a flurry of palms to the face and upper chest area, and other times there is a lot of grappling. But always before the actual wrestling is a good few minutes of pomp and circumstance… a “show” in which the wrestlers basically exhibit their bodies and strength in all their glory by squatting, lifting one leg over their heads and stomping into the ground, by vigorously hitting their own faces, arms, legs, and chests, or by leaning far backwards and bringing their arms back to display their massive chests. Then they circle around… Throughout these shows they always throw huge handfuls of salt in high arcs over the ring. Then when they are told to begin (by a “ref” completely in traditional bright hakama and a tall hat and special fan), they finally rush at each other…. And it’s always kind of funny when the match is over in a few seconds, after such a long display of power.
The bigger guy doesn’t always win. You need not only power and weight, but also speed and dexterity.
After one is thrown down, the winner returns to his side of the ring and squats down while the “ref” faces him from the center and holds up the fan, then presents the winner with prize money. (We can tell how much money he won by the number of men who held up flags and walked around the ring before the match– each flag, with the design for each sponsor, represented a couple hundred of dollars, usually 30,000yen each). Then the players would present the next players small wooden cups of sacred water to drink before the next bout.Overall it was a truly beautiful thing to watch, and I got to go completely for free because the Chancellor of JF Oberlin University (Obirin Daigaku, where I teach) gave the 3 Shansi Fellows these amazing tickets that included enormous, very beautiful bentos and a million other snacks. We got “souvenirs” too, 3 whole boxes each. Wow! (Note: These turned out to be two huge boxes of snacks of wafers in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry, and various salty senbei (crackers), and one box containing two small bowls!)In other news, taught my first two classes on Friday!! I teach two classes, levels 1 and 2 so quite beginner. They aren’t as mature or hard-working as Oberlin students, or probably most American college students in general, but I had a lot of fun. My first class even clapped after we finished! :’) I guess they had fun too. (They seemed surprised that they were clapping.) I’m hoping to bring in music to my classes once in a while if I have time… maybe by printing out the lyrics to one song a class and doing some basic reading comprehension questions (“This song is about… A) Love B) Revenge C) Friendship” hahaha. My students seem to enjoy music very much, even if they can’t speak English well at all.
Hope to talk to you soon, and that your flight is great! I can’t wait to hear about your new life, and hopefully we see each other soon!!!