(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
This is an article that I wrote for the online magazine 'Sumo Fan Magazine' telling my first live experience with the world of sumo.
Thanks to today’s modern communications and transportation, Tokyo is no longer so far away. It’s not so expensive either, or at least very similar to many of the main European cities. None of the reasons that until now have stopped you from travelling to Japan can be an excuse not to decide to get your plane tickets and run to see a live sumo match. And there is no one better place to do it than Tokyo, the world-wide center of this sport.
It’s difficult to explain the sensations that one has upon arriving in Narita airport. Nerves at the time of beginning the dream trip, some fear about confronting the complicated and strange Japanese kanji, uncertainty because of the cultural difference between east and west... all of these things are an explosive mixture that causes everything that is exciting from the first day.
If you are a baseball fan, without a doubt you must visit Yankee Stadium in New York; if your favorite sport is football (soccer) you would like to travel to Madrid to visit the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium; if you like basketball you’ll enjoy it at the Boston Garden. BUT, if you want to see sumo, there is no place in the world like the Ryogoku Kokugikan. And yes, there it was - inviting me to enter from the first day, even before the matches had begun - with the arrogance of the owner of all the secrets and the most appreciated treasures for all the sumo fans.
A sumo tournament inside the Kokugikan is not a casual one. The atmosphere you breathe from the first day is really special. The smell of the bintsuke on the rikishi’s hair catches you from the first moment, and the magic of the fight - live! - makes it like no other sport that can compare when speaking about flexibility and elegance.
Perhaps a greater surprise that you can witness is the tremendous competitiveness in all the categories. You can go to see the bouts with the idea that in the lower divisions, the wrestlers are small, thin and with little technique, but the reality is that practically all those who go up to the dohyo to fight, do it convinced of their force and demonstrate a repertory of techniques and power that astonishes everybody. And, seeing the bouts of makushita, you can understand how difficult is to reach to the upper categories, because the level is very similar to juryo and sometimes even to the lower part of makuuchi.
One of the most incredible moments of all the trip is when finally you begin to put faces to all those names with whom, over the years, you have shared your passion about sumo: Mark, John, Barbara, Katrina, Rob, Harumi, Martina, Doreen, David, Cas, Verena... and, I even was able to spread this passion to new fellows - two friends from Barcelona whom I met in the hotel, and who decided to get up very early on senshuraku to be able to get two tickets to enter the Kokugikan, so they could enjoy one of the most traditional and interesting phenomena of the Japanese culture.
The wrestlers... well, some of them are friendlier than others, but I’ll always have all the pictures I took of the rikishi while they entered the Kokugikan. And, of course, photos that I have next to the sumotori, presently active or retired, like ozeki Kaio, former yokozuna Musashimaru, Toki, Kitazakura and even some others who are lower-ranked like Minaminoshima, Gagamaru, Tochinoshin, Kainowaka and Kaisei.
Maybe a lot of people think that 15 days watching sumo could be excessive, but I can assure everyone that it absolutely is not. I must say that the time flies very quickly, and all of a sudden you realize that you are already watching senshuraku bouts and saying good bye to all the feelings of the magic of sumo for the first time in your life. Even one of my friends told me that he had some envy because he would like to feel, once again, all of the sensations you feel the first time that you travel to Japan to watch sumo. Yes, it could be true that all those sensations are unique and they never return, but I am sure that the next time that I go to Japan to see a bout I’ll have some other special feelings, and I’ll be again sitting in front of the dohyo watching bout after bout.
Maybe someone who has been reading this article until the end does not know very clearly what these sensations are that I’m talking about, but I can assure all of you that if somebody decides to travel to Japan to see a tournament live, he will experience the same as I did. And this is because sumo is not just a sport, it is much more than that. And it’s necessary to live it live to be able to feel it.