November 18, 2006
I’m not sure how the idea got started, but in the last month Gerard, Whitney, Heather and I suddenly became fixated on the idea of watching sumo. None of us knew anything about the sport, but we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and go to Fukuoka for the last Grand Sumo tournament of the year. Thus, acting on a whim, early this morning I found myself sitting in the very top row of seats in the Kokusai Center watching two very large, barely-clothed men trying to shove each other out of a ring and wondering idly where all the other spectators were.
The savvy sumo aficionado knows that in these tournaments the professional matches don’t begin until the afternoon, so there’s no reason to show up until three or four o’clock. Until then the dohyo (ring) is reserved for the novices, who really don’t draw much of a crowd. Of course, we really had no idea what we were doing, so it was only after sat down and surveyed the huge expanse of empty seats stretching out before us that someone found the “no reentry” notice. And so, with the important sumo matches five hours away, we were stuck. So we watched.
Sumo is a sport unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the States. At first, it was a little hard to fathom. My favorite sports are
horse racing and football, so I’m well aware that different sports require different physiques, from very small to quite large. Yet the idea of an intentionally obese athlete seemed very strange to me (not to mention that these guys have achieved sex-symbol status - I suppose cultural prejudices die hard). However, these rikishi (wrestlers) used their immense bulk with surprising finesse to maneuver their opponent to the ground or out of the ring. It was really quite impressive.