Thursday, August 09, 2007

Our second day exploring Japan (March 23) was spent in Osaka. We took the train from Nisshin to Nagoya to Osaka. We wandered the streets, including the famous Dotonbori shopping district, for what seemed to be hours, snapping pictures and acting like tourists. People and bicycles everywhere! Restaurants with huge signs and neon lights enticing you in. (Remember, you can click on a photo to see it bigger, but you won't see any additional info.) Everyone was taking pictures of this sign: I thought surely he must be a famous Japanese Olympian or something. Turns out Glico is a Japanese food company and we still don't know who the guy is. And what famous artist or actress could this be? It's Katie! YEAH!!! And then ... a Ferris Wheel!! Can we ride? Can we?? We can! :-) The Dotonbori River from street level and from the top of the ferris wheel. And here's Osaka from way up high.
Now it was time to head to the day's main event -
the Grand Sumo Tournament! There are six Grand Tournaments a year (each lasting for 15 days), one of them being in Osaka while we were there!!! We walked to the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium where crowds were waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite wrestler. Katie had got tickets for us so we went right in to enjoy the festivities.

Sumo is an ancient sport dating back some 1500 years and, according to Japanese legend, the very origin of the Japanese race depended on the outcome of a sumo match. The first sumo matches were a form of ritual dedicated to the gods with prayers for a bountiful harvest and were performed together with sacred dancing and dramas within the precincts of the shrines.
There are no weight limits in sumo, so a wrestler may find himself pitted against an opponent twice his own weight. A bout is won by forcing the opponent out of the inner circle or throwing him down in the ring. A wrestler who touches the ground with any part of his body (his knee, or even the tip of his finger or his top-knot) loses the match. Hitting with the fist, hair pulling, eye gouging, choking, and kicking in the stomach or chest are prohibited. (Is kicking in the shins or head okay?) It is also against the rules to seize the part of the band covering the vital organs.
The correct name for the sumo diaper :-) is mawashi. Made of heavy silk approximately 10 yards long by 2 feet wide, it is folded in six and then wrapped around the waist from 4 to 7 times, depending on the girth of the wrestler. There are 70 winning tricks, most of which are achieved by maneuvering the opponent with a grip on the mawashi.
There is much ritual and traditional etiquette that accompanies the sumo ceremony. The wrestlers clap their hands, slap their thighs, raise their legs in the air, and stomp their feet; they throw salt onto the ring to purify it; they rinse their mouths with water and wipe their bodies with towels. Then they squat and face each other in the center of the ring, glaring fiercely at each other. They don't begin the match at once. They go back to their corners to throw more salt, wipe down their bodies, and return to glare. They can do this again and again, for the full four minutes allowed by the rules. Theoretically, they are waiting for the psychological moment when they both feel ready. The referee is attired in kimono patterned after the style worn by the samurai. Sitting around the four sides of the "dohyo" are five judges in black formal kimono.
This picture shows the "entering the ring" ceremony with the wrestlers wearing their ceremonial a
prons made of silk, richly embroidered and hemmed with gold fringe.
The bout is usually over in less time than it takes to go through the "warm-up" rituals.

We laughed and clapped and cheered for nearly 3 hours and took hundreds of pictures, so let me know if you want to see more :-) Note: Anything written above that sounds like I know anything at all about Sumo Wrestling was taken from the brochure we were given upon entering the gymnasium. See the official website:

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