It was one of my biggest Japanese dreams- visit the real Sumo Tournament, but in 2 weeks before my flight, I didn’t find any tickets to the Ryogoku Kokugikan (Tokyo Sumo Arena). I spent a week searching and finally, I got two tickets on the balcony (the first photo I took from my place) on the last day of Grand Sumo Tournament.
The Tokyo Grand Sumo Tournament held 3 times a year (January, May, September) and each tournament begins on a Sunday and runs for 15 days from 9 am until 6 pm (without breaks and pauses). Ryogoku Kokugikan was opened in 1985 and has a capacity of 11,098 people.
As I said, wrestling starts in the morning with the jonokuchi wrestlers (the lowest division) and ends in the evening with bouts involving the yokozuna (highest rank in Sumo, kind of grand champions) and you can spend all of your day in Ryogoku Kokugikan. The wrestler who wins the most matches over the 15 days wins the tournament championship for his division.
A sumo wrestler leads a highly regimented way of life, they must grow their hair long to form a topknot, similar to the samurai hairstyles of the Edo period, sumo fighters wear the traditional Japanese dress when in public and they live in traditional Japanese houses (the junior wrestlers sleep in communal dormitories). Furthermore, they can’t have private cars (only bicycles) and their day regime is very strict. The junior wrestlers must get up earliest, around 5 am, for training, whereas the sekitori (wrestlers in the top two divisions) may start around 7 am. When the sekitori are training, the junior wrestlers may have chores to do, such as assisting in cooking the lunch, cleaning, and preparing the bath, holding a sekitori’s towel, or wiping the sweat from him.
Sumo wrestlers have a life expectancy between 60 and 65, more than 10 years shorter than the average Japanese male, as the diet and sport take a toll on the wrestler’s body.
It’s very honorable to be a sumo wrestler, they’re kind of national heroes and superstars. The wrestlers have a high monthly salary (between $11,000 and $30,500, depends on the division), they’re always welcome in any house and at any event. I tried to find an example from the Western world but didn’t find, for me this phenomenon is unique.
This little one is a Gyoji- referee in professional tournaments, and two big guys are shimpan (ring-side judges).
In a sumo tournament, five shimpan (judges) sit around the ring to observe which wrestler wins the matchup. At the end of each bout, an initial decision is given by the gyoji (the ring referee), which is usually correct and no action is taken by the shimpan, but sometimes in a difficult situation, they stop the tournament to find the winner.
Gunbai is a war fan, usually made of wood, used by the gyoji to signal his instructions and final decision during a bout. Historically, it was used by samurai officers in Japan to communicate commands to their soldiers.
This man who sits face to us is Gagamaru Masaru, he’s very famous sumo wrestler who came to Japan from Georgia for learning the sumo traditions and fighting. His real name is Teimuraz Jugheli, he was born in 1987 (yes, 31 years old) in Tbilisi.
Dohyo-iri is a ring-entering ceremony, performed only by the wrestlers in the juryo (the second-highest division) and makuuchi (the top division).
And of course the audience (11,098 people) with their bento boxes and souvenirs from the gift-shops, as a part of nowadays sumo tradition.