Sumo Sunday

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 high-ranking sumo wrestlers line up for a ceremony before the main competition commences.

The high-ranking sumo wrestlers line up for a ceremony before the main competition commences.

The sumo wrestlers don their ceremonial garb for a pre-competition processional.

The sumo wrestlers don their ceremonial garb for a pre-competition processional.

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!

Sumo Fighto!

Sumo Fighto!

Sumo Basho!

One of the Yokozuna and his entourage perform some kind of base masculine chest-pumping ritual.

Another Yokozuna shows off his dominance by doing the bird of prey pose, followed by the sumo moonwalk.

The guy in yellow is one of the Yokozuna, and he won every match. You can see why in this photo taken at the moment the match starts - the guy is a bull, and he moves from motionless to full charge in a split second.

The guy in yellow is Yokozuna Hakuho, and he won every match. You can see why in this photo taken at the moment the match starts – the guy is a bull, and he moves from motionless to full charge in a split second.

A rather awkward hand placement that my camera happened to catch – what was happening in this moment? I think the other guy’s about to be lifted and thrown, but I can only imagine Hakuho saying to the other guy, “yup, I’m bigger.”

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.

Sumo storytelling – when a bunch of sumo wrestlers stand around and take turns telling stories and jokes in old Japanese theatrical-style voices. I didn’t understand much except that they spent some time talking about vegetables.

At one point in the sumo comedy, the two wrestlers went into the crowd and started grabbing and chugging peoples’ beers. The ref went out to scold them and herd them back, then when they returned to the ring and were ready to fight, they looked back and realized the ref had begun drinking in the audience as well.

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.

Me and my fellow sumo spectators in Miyagawa Park after the event. Special thanks to Chris (in the grey hat) who got up early to reserve and defend a spot for us all!

Me and my fellow sumo spectators in Miyagawa Park after the event. Special thanks to Chris (in the grey hat) who got up early to reserve and defend a spot for us all!

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!

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