(proofreaded by Barbara Ann Klein)
Japan, the birthplace of sumo, the country that any fan of this sport wants to visit. In September 2006 I went to watch the Aki Basho live. This is the story of my trip to the land of the rising sun.
Introduction - The journey begins - First contact with sumo - The show starts - The fight of the gods - Tourism across Tokyo - Komatsuryu dojo - Tomozuna beya - Barbara and the typhoon - Senshuraku - Senshuraku party - Daishi - Feel the sumo
During this trip I wanted not only to see everything related to professional sumo but also had great interest in seeing amateur sumo wrestlers. And for this, there could be nothing better than going with Irish John Gunning for a training session in his dojo, which they do every Sunday morning in a building devoted entirely to sports. The site is located in Sumida Park along the river of the same name, north of the Asakusa area. I found John at the gates of the Kokugikan because he had to get his ticket for the bouts of the day, and on weekends there are always lots of people queuing to get theirs. From there we walked to the dojo, about 45 minutes. We passed Ajigawa Beya at a time when almost all the rikishi were in the street after finishing the daily keiko, and among them I could recognize Aminishiki and his brother, Asofuji.
Upon reaching the dojo, John went to a machine and got a ticket. Priced according to the sport to be practiced, a ticket must be purchased and deposited at the entrance of the training dojo. There, John introduced me to the few people around, because we were some of the first to arrive. Everyone was quite amazed that a Spaniard wanted to see amateur sumo training and they even were more shocked when John said that I had written a book about sumo. They all were really nice and friendly and congratulated me for having written the book.
The training itself was very similar what is done in normal keiko in a heya. The exercises were the same and the only difference was that bouts were fought between fighters of similar categories. The children started, some of them very young, but they struggled the most, urged on especially by parents who were there watching the development of training, as I was. After them, it was the turn of wrestlers a bit older,until we reached the heavyweight category. John would have been in that weight class if he were not still recovering from an injury in his arm that prevented him not only from any kind of physical contact but also from joining the amateur Sumo Ireland team which competed for the first time in the World Cup in Osaka in October. Actually, John told me that there were very strong fighters there and that one of them would probably finish and enter Ozumo.
After training, we returned to the Kokugikan to watch the bouts of the day, but not before stopping in one of the many shops in the city to buy something to eat inside the pavilion. While we were walking back to the Kokugikan we had to pass Asakusa and Ryogoku. As the weekend coincided with the coming of autumn and the Japanese love all kinds of celebrations, we saw several parades with different local groups who carried a kind of throne or Shinto altar on their shoulders in what was surely a celebration to welcome the new season. John himself told me that one of these parades was sponsored by members of the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, but the truth is that while you respect them and don’t mess with them, even those, the most dangerous Japanese rarely confront you.
The day ended at the Kokugikan watching all the bouts of Juryo and Makuuchi. Then I went by train to Mark’s place, having been invited to meet his family and have dinner with them. To my delight, I found a bottle of Spanish wine in a store at Ueno station, which I gave them to enjoy whenever they chose. The dinner was excellent, with all kinds of Japanese dishes, so much so that we were unable to finish everything we had on the table. Then we watched an English football league game between Chelsea and Liverpool, and we selected our own two teams, because while Chelsea was cheered by Mark, his wife and I decided to be clearly in favor of Liverpool, with little success... unfortunately for us.I didn’t prolong my stay more at Mark’s place because the next day I had a visit to Tomozuna Beya and we know that when you visit a heya, you must be awake at dawn.