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Be Here Asia

Postcards from the Road — 023 — July 2019
Dear Friends and Family from around the Globe,

I never thought I’d be writing that I’ve become a fan of professional wrestling, but after my most recent trip to the Sumo Tournament in Nagoya, I’ve been converted. 

It was fascinating how the wrestlers used the time before the bout to get the crowd engaged and to try and psyche out their opponent. They threw salt with bravado, slapped their bellies like drums, and they would get into a deep squat position as if making to start the match, but then stand up at the last second, making their opponent frustrated with waiting. All these little rituals kept me on the edge of my seat (a little purple cushion on the floor) and drew the spectators into the action. 

Once the wrestling would start it could be over in as few as three or four seconds. The wrestlers are HUGE, and it's hard to imagine how quickly they can move, but they are incredibly agile and strong, they lunge, slap, and lift their opponents up by their costume, in an effort to force them outside the ring. If you blink, you'll miss the whole thing. 


The ring itself is reminiscent of a Shinto shrine, and that isn’t an accident. Before Sumo became a professional sport (1603), bouts took place on the grounds of Shinto Temples to ask for a good harvest and to honor the gods. You’ll see other aspects of Shintoism in the rituals performed—clapping hands, rinsing the mouth with water, throwing salt into the arena for purification, and the costumes that the referees wear, which look like Shinto priests. 

Becoming a Sumo Wrestler

To train to become a professional wrestler, men are invited to join Stables where they work under coaches, eating, sleeping, and training in the same building. Wrestlers have strict schedules, and chores, and are fed something like 20,000 calories a day, which is incredible, considering the recommended calorie intake for most individuals is around 2,500 calories. No wonder they reach such momentous stature! 
Currently, only males are considered professional sumo wrestlers, even though there are female sumo wrestlers. ‘Little Miss Sumo’ is a great film about how some young women are trying to change that.

The pyramid below explains the different ranks within professional Sumo wrestling, you can see that VERY few people make it to the level of Makuuchi, only 42 (thank you to Sumo Talk for this image). 


There are six Sumo tournaments held each year, alternating between Tokyo (January, May, September), Osaka (March), Nagoya (July) and Fukuoka (November).
I’ve been to the January and September tournaments in Tokyo, as well as the July tournament in Nagoya. And I’m looking forward to visiting the Osaka and Fukuoka arenas in the future. It’s true that each location has its own feel and that the crowd in attendance has a different personality. 

You’ll notice when you go to a tournament that before some bouts flags are paraded for different sponsoring companies. Each of those flags represents about $600 USD and go to the winning wrestler from that specific bout.  

Tournaments are 15-days long. Each day the wrestlers face different opponents and either win or lose their bout. They only wrestler once each day. At the end of the tournament, the wrestler with the highest number of wins is the champion. I attended the 13th day of the tournament and the last bout was between an undefeated Yokozuna (highest ranking wrestler), Kakuryu, against a lower-ranking wrestler, named Tomokaze. At the time Kakuryu was undefeated 12-0 and Tomokaze upset him in a quick match! It was incredible and the crowd was so stunned that they threw their cushions in delighted protest (the video at the start of the newsletter).
Kakuryu ended up winning the tournament with a record of 14-1 so his only loss the entire time was against Tomokaze. Incredible! 

I’m looking forward to November and Fukuoka. Tickets will go on sale September 14th! So mark your calendars—they sell out quickly.
All my best,

Elizabeth Mueller
Be Here Asia

P.S. Thank you to the journalist, John Gunning, for his 'Sumo 101' series for the Japan Times, gave me so much more insight into the actions and rituals that took place during the tournament.
Email sent lovingly from Tokyo, Japan.

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