A week ago three classmates and I went to the Nagoya Sumo tournament and the experience was simply amazing. For those of you who think Sumo wrestling is a bunch of obese half-naked men pushing each other around, well… you’re right. But that’s about as useful a definition as “a lot of men on bikes” for the Tour de France or “hitting a ball with a stick and running around” for the World Series. Sumo is so much more than this simplistic definition. Quoting from the booklet handed out during the tournament (published by Nihon-Sumo-Kyokai, Japan Sumo Association): “According to Japanese legend the very origin of [the Japanese people] depended on the outcome of a sumo match. …Apart from legend, however, sumo is an ancient sport dating back some 1500 years. …The first sumo matches were a form of ritual dedicated to the gods…. Later in the hands of the samurai, jujitsu was developed as an offshoot of sumo.” In other words, this is a sport steeped in history, tradition and ritual, and should not be confused for other forms of wrestling.
A Sumo tournament (there are 6 held yearly) lasts 15 days. Since we attended the second day of matches, tickets were easier to find. We would have liked to attend the final day, when winners are determined, but tickets had sold out quickly. I believe matches start at 9 am but we showed up at 10 am and found a mostly empty hall, perhaps 12 other spectators. This suited us just fine because we could watch the lower-ranked rikishi, or wrestlers, compete. (Higher-ranking bouts occur at the end of the day). Since there are no weight-limitations in sumo, we sometimes saw huge rikishi matched against astonishingly small opponents. It was awesome.
The day progressed and more spectators filtered in. At lunchtime they served chanko nabe, a delicious throw-everything-into-a-pot-and-stir soup that rikishi eat to fatten up. As we headed down to grab lunch, we didn’t realize we would soon be featured on Japanese national television.
It turns out that this day was the first day that chanko nabe had ever been served at a Nagoya Sumo tournament. We didn’t know this and so were quite surprised to find a throng of TV camera people and photographers documenting the entire chanko nabe purchase and ingestion affair. As I placed my 300 yen on the counter and waited for my bowl of caloried goodness, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat sheepish as photographers snapped photo after photo…of me…waiting…for a bowl of soup. But it was very much worth it. The chanko nabe was simply excellent.
As we ate, we were approached by a reporter from NHK (the Japanese equivalent of NBC/CBS/ABC/PBS rolled into one). She asked us what we thought about the soup and we all said “oishii” (delicious) and meant it. One of us got adventurous and *gasp* actually used a grammatical construction: “futoku narimasu” which my friend wishes meant “Superb; the konyaku nicely accents the chicken” but instead means “I will become fat”, and requires conjugation of the adjective “fat” combined with the polite form of the verb “to become”.
(Let me go out on a limb and make a huge, broad, sweeping generalization and say that Japanese people, no Asian cultures, adore food. After sampling first hand the culinary delights to be found over here, I desperately wish the United States had a similar passion. Alas, we have only The Food Network. In Japan, every broadcast channel is kinda like The Food Network, except in Japanese and features more fish.)
Later that night our pictures and actual spoken words were featured on NHK news and shown again two days later (but that time featuring only my friend exclaiming “I will become fat”).
As the tournament drew to a climax, the arena filled up further but not as much as we expected. We got to see Asashoryu (the top rikishi) beat Kokkai. There was much rejoicing. My Taiwanese friend kept saying “he’s strong” and “I like Asashoryu”, which gives you a rough idea of where we are, grammatically, among friends outside of class.
After the tournament ended at 6 PM, we headed out to eat miso katsu and again there was much rejoicing. And for a very brief instant I thought to myself, if I eat enough I too could become a Sumo wrestler.