Sumo wrestling the worlds oldest sport?
Sumo wrestling might be the world’s oldest sport still performed today! The sport has a history spanning many centuries’ ancient traditions have been preserved even today! There are many ritual elements such as salt purifications to get rid of evil spirits in the circular ring (dohyõ) before the match begins. The wrestlers themselves have to live according old traditions following strict rules for the clothes they use, the food they eat. This is a very demanding life and certainly not a life for everyone. Sumo wrestling has been through a severe decline but know is more popular than ever before since there are two grand champions (yokozuna).
Of course the first day of sumo wrestling was sold out and a great media event. But there are interesting things to see outside of Kokugikan particularly then the sumo wrestling is finished for the day. Supporters are hunting priceless autographs and press photographs pictures.
If do visit Tokyo in January, May or in September you have a great opportunity to see sumo wrestling in Kokugikan. However one needs to book ticket one month in advance of the tournament. If interested in very good seats you should book the first day tickets are available for sale. The best tickets are sold out within a few hours. If you are living abroad tickets can be booked at http://www.buysumotickets.com. I did book my tickets at this site! They will need a couple of weeks to send the tickets by post to your country.
Kokugikan sumo wrestling arena is located in Ryõkogu in Tokyo’s lower Edo. One can stay overnight in Pearl hotel cross the street from Kokugikan. This was my cheapest nights in Tokyo I paid 13 200 Yen for two nights without breakfast. The room was alright however there was one disturbing thing the railway bridge just outside the hotel! Trains are running until half past midnight and starts again five o clock in the morning. If rail way noise disturbs you should stay somewhere else! Pearl hotel is centrally located to see Akihabara, Skytree and Asakusa. These places are easily reached by walking just a few kilometers or by train from Ryõkogu train station. If you need a better hotel I do recommend Super hotel Akihabara Suehirocho two stops by train from Ryõkogu or about three kilometers walking.
Kokugikan sumo wrestling arena takes 11 098 spectators in two floors one ground floor with the ring (dohyõ) and a second floor with western chairs only. In the ground floor the ring is located in the middle with ringside seats around it. The ringside seats are so close that spectators get sprayed by clay and sand during the boats. One is not allowed to bring in a camera, food or soft drinks to these seats. Retired persons or children are not allowed here since one must be able to move quickly if a wrestler falls out of the ring. The spectators must agree what they take the full responsibly if an accident happens on these seats during a bout.
Next level from the ring is the wooded box Japanese style seats there each box holds four seats. One can only buy all four seats in one box but are allowed to use it for one person. Maybe two persons in one box is a convenient way to arrange things with some space left for food and cameras. The wooded box seats have three different levels A-box, B-box and C-box levels. The best seats are the A-box seats followed by the B-box seats. I do recommend the A-box and B-box seats if you can sit in the Japanese way from 8:30 in the morning to 18:00 in the evening. For the C-box seats I would suggest to choose the A1 western style chairs on the second floor instead. This is far more convenient than C-box seats and as close to the bouts.
On the second floor the best seats are the A1 western style chairs! There are three different levels A, B and C. I was sitting on the second floor in an A1 chair. If you would like to take pictures in the arena one is allowed do so from the seats one is sitting in. It´s not allowed bringing in professional photo equipment without official permit from the arena. I did use a Fuji camera with a 50 to 200 mm zoom lens and a Sony A7 with a 50 mm lens. The Fuji camera is of course very slow and definitely not a camera for sports but I was still able to get some lucky shots.
This is the early morning and a match in one of the lower classes. This can be seen on the referees’ simpler dress and his bare feet. Nor are the wrestlers allowed to throw salt into the ring to getting rid of evil spirits. The cushions the wrestlers are sitting on before the boat are thinner than later in the evening. The ring consists of slippery clay and surface of sand so one needs to move with caution!
One can win in sumo wrestling by pushing the opponent out of the ring; have the competitor to lose his balance and put other part of the body than the sole of his feet on the surface in the ring, or lift the other wrestler from the ground so his feet has no contact with the the ring.
Several times during the day the ring must be treated with some water to get the right slippery consistency of the clay and the sand on top of it! The black dressed man in the middle of the picture sitting between the sumo wrestlers is one of the ring side referees.
We move up in ranks now the wrestler throw salt but still the referee has simpler dress and bare feet. The wrestlers throw 45 kg of salt into the ring each tournament day trying to get rid of evil spirits.
We have once again moved up in ranks which can be seen on the referee’s smarter dress and the socks on his feet! This is a match between a heavy wrestler and a much thinner one. There is no weight limits or weight classes in sumo wrestling. Normally heavy weight is a big advantage in sumo wrestling. The heaviest wrestlers are up almost to 200 kg the most common weights are in 125 to 190 kg.
If there are weight differences one can expect a thrilling match! The slimmer wrestler must move quickly trying to get his heavier opponent off balance. Once the heavier wrestler has a firm grip of the thinner wrestler body he is lost.
The highest ranked sumo wrestlers start their bouts at 16:00 in the afternoon! There is an opening ceremony at 15:45. First the wrestler entering from the South west entrance comes up in the ring. A few minutes later it’s time for the wrestler form the North West entrance to enter the ring. For the moment there is two Yokozuna (Grand Champions) both coming from Mongolia. There are sumo wrestlers from Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Brazil and Egypt. Of the twenty-six wrestlers ten are of non-Japanese origin out of these ten seven comes from Mongolia. The last time Japan had a Grand Champion was 2006! If a wrestler wins more matches than he loses he can move up in ranking. If he loses more matches than he wins he moves down in ranking. However a Yokozuna can’t move down in ranking! If he does lose more matches than he wins he is expected to withdraw from sumo wrestling! If wrestler moves up in ranking is based on how many matches he had won and a jury decision after the tournament.
There are six referees during a match one in the ring and five sitting around the ring. There is at least one referee sitting in the middle of each side of the ring. However one of the sides has two referees! All referees sitting around the ring are wearing black dresses! Sumo wrestling is a simple game but it still can be very difficult to decide who actually won the match? No video help is allowed for the decision! During this day it was conference in the ring between the referees two times. One of the matches was considered impossible to deicide a winner so there were a new match between these two sumo wrestlers!
If you count the women on the picture down below you will discover that sumo wrestling is a woman sport! Even very old Japanese women go to Sumo wrestling. In the chair next to me an old lady in her eighties was sitting with the program of the today’s matches and a schedule for the results of the tournaments matches. She had a pen and a ruler to fill in today’s results. At 14:30 she went a way to get her head set, so she could hear the commentaries transmitted in Kokugikan arena from today’s matches.
The last match of the day is between the two best wrestlers at least one of these is normally a Yokozuna grand champion! Today it was a spectacular match continuing for at least a minute. But the end was a simple step out of the ring! As can be seen on the referees dress it was a match in the highest class. Now the referee wears the smartest dress, socks and flip flop on his feet
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