One reason I will never figure this place out is that I will never understand the rules.
The sumo tournament rules said “No food, no drink, no cellphone use, and no pictures.” Other than being surrounded by people eating, drinking, using their cellphones and taking pictures, the entire event was quite orderly.
Picture a WWE event, put on by PBS. Most men wore suit jackets. My friend’s brother, a kind young Japanese man, bought us the tickets. When I asked for that favor, I assumed that it meant logging onto a website and pressing “order.” The tickets could only be ordered in Japan so I needed the help, but I had no idea he would end up spending an hour on the phone calling over and over until he was able to order tickets. Nor did I realize that he wouldn’t give up until he obtained seats 6 rows from ringside and 4 seats from the place where the wrestlers enter and leave.
But that’s Japan – to this day I am still astounded by the generosity of the Japanese people. At the end of the match a man with a camera bag who obviously felt bad for me for respecting the rules handed me some photos of previous matches he had taken. These were publication-worthy shots. He told me it was obvious I loved the match and he wanted me to have some good pictures as souvenirs.
Does the west have a sport where it is considered dishonorable to make any expression of emotion at victory? I’m not sure that there is even another one like it in Japan. Sumo has been practiced for over 1000 years and the judges and officials still dress in Kamakura period clothing, samurai fashions that are 800 years old.
It’s amazing. Like baseball, it is quite dull to watch on television but riveting to watch live. It’s impossible to convey the force deployed by these men as they crash into each other. Imagine being hit by a bus with a Saturn5 rocket attached at the back that’s got a steel battering ram on the front and is driven by Chuck Norris.
Yet they are the masters of their form, able to instantly turn it off and relax, to redirect an opponent’s energy to the ground right in front of them. I watched Balto, the #2 rikishi in Japan, end a match in 3 seconds by gracefully redirecting his opponent straight into the ground. It’s like watching two enormous, fat ninjas fight on a hotel balcony.
There are no weight classes – why should there be? Over and over I watched the smaller guy win. It’s tough to be a big guy in this country. Heck, I feel like a giant. I actually get self-conscious about my size here. And although I’ve never noticed it, A said people stare at me all day long. Kyushu, unlike Tokyo and Kyoto, isn’t used to the presence of Westerners yet. We’ve seen less than 10 since we’ve been here. A, on the other hand, fits right in.