Seriously, how can you come to Japan and not go to a sumo wrestling match if there’s a tournament going on, right? So despite not knowing a thing about the sport, except that two guys get into a ring and only one guy remains when it’s all said and done, I hopped on a train headed for Ryōgoku station.
By following the mass of people exiting the station, I arrived at Ryōgoku Kokugikan, the large stadium that housed the sumo tournament. Colorful flags from all the different heya (stables/teams) flew high and proud. As I approached the ticket office, I crossed my fingers in hopes that they still had some cheap seats available. Luckily, I didn’t have too much trouble communicating with the attendant and had a ticket in hand.
The inside of the stadium was buzzing with activity even though it was mid-afternoon by this time. After a few pictures with a sumo bird (I assume he was the tournament’s mascot but am not sure), I tried to find a bento (boxed lunch) but failed. Most of the food was sold out already so I had to satisfy myself with a drink and some wafers I had in my bag.
The next to-do was finding my seat. Normally, this wouldn’t be too difficult because the section and seat information is on your ticket. But, since I couldn’t really read the ticket as it was in kanji, I had to revert to my bad Japanese skills and hope someone could understand me (and, more importantly, that I could understand them).
After asking several people if they spoke English (with minimal success), I tried asking for directions in Japanese. Everyone was very helpful, but I think they didn’t know where I was supposed to go either. But, after a few failed attempts and misdirection, I finally found the correct section and seat. Now I could enjoy a few hours of sumo.
The entire experience was interesting. As a sumo novice having only seen highlights of matches on the local news at home, and only when we had Hawaii-born athletes in the matches, I was quite out of my league at this live tournament. Everything was done in Japanese – promoting the next wrestling match, encouraging the wrestlers to keep going and announcing the winner. People around me oohed and ahhed, jumped up and cheered and sat down in disappointment when their favorites lost. The energy around me was electrifying, and even though I couldn’t really understand much, I was swept up in the excitement too.
After about three hours of sumo, I watched the day’s closing ceremony and was amazed at what I was able to experience today. I was in Japan watching traditional sports with Japanese people. I was part of the long tradition of sumo just by being present. It was great! I couldn’t wait to see what else this country had to share with me.