Yesterday's experience would have to rate as one of the best we've had in Japan so far. In fact for pure insight into a countries historic culture and sheer enjoyment maybe one of the best experiences we've ever had! To use the word 'amazing' would be an understatement!
The entrance ceremony
Sumo wrestling must be one of the worlds most ancient sports dating back about 1500years. According to legend the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match. It's origins were religious and contained rituals dedicated to the gods in hope of bountiful harvests, in the 8th period it was introduced into the imperial court and a tournament was held each year. A period of warfare broke out across Japan around 1192 and it wasn't until 1603 when a new Shogun (commander or military leader) took control and restored peace, that Sumo took it's place as Japan's national sport.
Moving on from the history lesson, there are now six grand national tournaments a year and thankfully one of those makes it's way to Fukuoka, a 1.5hr drive along the expressway from us.
Before each match the wrestler's sponsors are displayed
Each tournament lasts for 15 days and each rikishi (wrestler) fights only once each day against a different opponent. The rikishi with the best W-L record is the winner of the tournament. There are about 800 professional rikishi in the world so it's a very exclusive club! Sumo is actually a very complicated sport with so many different ranking levels, rules, ceremonial stuff and techniques. It may not look like it but there are 70 winning 'tricks' most of which are achieved by maneuvering your opponent with a grip on the mawashi (nappy). Basically the aim is to get the other dude to touch the ground first (with any body part excluding their feet) or to throw them outside the ring.
A match in progress and the gyoji (ref)
The atmosphere was electric and as the day progressed and the top guys started wrestling things really heated up! Hopefully the pics will do it justice!
Here is a sequence of one of the more exciting matches