(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
When I was still in Spain, before beginning my trip, I contacted Harumi Hotta, via internet. She is a Japanese woman who has good relations with Tomozuna beya and who maintains the recently initiated English version of the heya website. After exchanging several messages, we decided to meet in the early hours of the morning on September 18th at Kinshicho station, just one stop beyond Ryogoku. With her was Martina Lunau, a German woman who shares the heya website maintenance work with Harumi. Then we took a taxi and in just 5 minutes we were in front of the gates of the heya. By the way, the topic of taxi drivers in Japan is curious and complex, because true addresses are virtually nonexistent in Tokyo and most streets have no name, just a complex system of neighborhoods and districts which in most cases are not even correlated with each other. Thus, it is very common that the client has to direct the taxi driver to the destination. Even one day when I went for dinner at the home of a Japanese friend who lives in a residential area a short distance from the station, the taxi driver received instructions from my friend by phone after I got in his cab.
After ringing the heya’s doorbell, they opened the door and we entered the training room where we were the only non-sumo people in attendance. Kaisenryu, Kainowaka, Kaishoryu, Kainohama and newcomer Kaisei, who had just been presented in mae-zumo, were there. Kaishinho was also there, but was kyujo in that tournament having had an eye operation. While he was unable to participate in the Aki Basho, he was in the kitchen preparing the chanko-nabe. Ozeki Kaio was also not there, having withdrawn a few days before because he suffered back pain. He was resting at home. Upon arrival we were offered some cushions by the rikishi, so we sat and we watched keiko with all the respect required and expected. We cannot forget that this is the wrestlers’ profession and place of work, and that we must follow the protocol: no eating or drinking, talking as little as possible (and if you do, very quietly), no flash photography, never pointing your feet toward the dohyo. And of course, doing nothing that might otherwise embarrass the wrestlers.
Just 15 minutes after our arrival Tomozuna oyakata appeared and after a brief greeting, he sat down in front of us and read the newspaper, occasionally lifting his head to watch his recruits doing their exercises. Once they began to fight, his attention was almost complete and he made several observations to correct things he saw during the confrontations. It was also very interesting to see how the Brazilian Kaisei (Ricardo Sugano), who had not yet mastered the Japanese language, received advice from his compatriot Kainohama, likely in Portuguese.
After finishing keiko, Martina and Harumi gave Kaisenryu and Kainowaka some photographs and gifts. I then had the opportunity to speak for five minutes with two Brazilians in the heya, Kainohama and Kaisei, taking advantage of the similarity between Spanish and Portuguese, the famous 'portuñol'. I also used that opportunity to thank them for the keiko and to wish them all the luck in the world during the tournament. Kainohama had just recovered from an injury that had him away from competition for several months, and which dropped him to Jonokuchi. At that time, however, he was unbeaten in the tournament and had a very good chance at winning the yusho, although at the end he lost his last bout and had to settle for a 6-1 result.After the visit, we walked to the train station and stopped in a coffee bar, and talked amongst ourselves about our common love for sumo. Despite being Monday, it was a national holiday in Japan, so there was no excessive movement in the streets and walking was a real pleasure. The rest of the day did not differ much from the other days; arrive at the Kokugikan to eat there and watch the bouts of the higher grades. Perhaps at this point somebody could already think that I should be tired of sumo, but I can assure you that I wasn’t. Sumo is really an addictive sport.