This year on Easter Sunday, while most people were busy hunting for Easter eggs, going to church or cooking up the Easter ham, I was watching fat men in their underwear try to push, throw, maneuver, or otherwise evict each other out of a circle. That’s right, your Easter Sunday was my Sumo Sunday, and I have no regrets (except for that one time when a sumo wrestler picked his wedgie, with thoroughness and vigor, and my eyes locked involuntarily on the whole thing as if it were happening in slow motion).
Sumo Sunday is an annual sumo exhibition in Ise, in my own Mie Prefecture. Unlike the formal sumo tournaments that are held in large stadiums with numbered seats – and where apparently women are to this day not allowed to sit within the inner ring of seats – this exhibition takes place in a small, covered, outdoor ring and seating consists of mats laid out on the ground surrounding the ring, first-come-first-served (and defended with your life).
The exhibition starts bright and early in the morning and progresses through the ranks – from the kids (who I missed but were reportedly adorable) – to the amateur adult ranks and finally to a tournament involving the higher ranking sumo wrestlers. Two Yokozuna – the highest rank available bestowed on only the most elite sumo wrestlers – were present and there were some processionals and general dominance-asserting rituals, which involved what can only be described as the sumo moonwalk. One of the Yokozuna, Hakuho – a crowd favourite and the eventual winner of the tournament – was definitely a Yokozuna for a reason. His final victory match was the most intense few moments of the day. Check it out on video here, on my brand new YouTube channel!
There were also several intermissions for sumo comedy and sumo storytelling, among other things. Yes, you read that right: sumo comedy. Two sumo wrestlers and a referee take everything that sumo stands for – tradition, ceremony, respect, all that jazz – and turn it on its head, with antics that are essentially the three stooges meet sumo. All those things you think in your head would be funny while watching serious sumo, but would never actually happen, well they happen. The family sitting in front of us came just to watch the sumo comedy, and left immediately after. It was that good. Also, I managed to get the last bit on video. The video commences just after the drinking-in-the-audience incident in the photo below.
While I went into this day thinking it would be a one-time thing – an obligatory sumo event to cross off my Japan bucket list – I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I expected to, and I think a small seed of sumo fandom was planted within me. I will definitely be going back next year and if you’re planning to be in Mie next spring as well, I highly recommend Sumo Sunday! It’s an event to be remembered… just like the sumo wedgie-picking incident. Unforgettable.
P.S. I’ve just created a YouTube channel for the sole purpose of sharing the best sumo moments with you all. You can see Yokozuna Hakuho’s final epic match here, and the finale of the sumo comedy sketch here. Check them out and welcome The JWs Do Japan to YouTube! Cheers!