Summer Grand Sumo Tournament 2012

Sunday, May 20th was the fifteenth and final day of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament held annually in Tokyo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan. This year, the Mongolian Kyokutenho, at the advanced age of 37 years, made an incredible to win against his younger opponent and favorite Tochiozan. A rare occurrence in this world of codes and strict restraint, tears of joy rolled down the cheeks of the giant who emerged victorious. Let’s review this special day in images and video.

Very much like what happens during big European football tournaments, tickets for the final day of the basho had all been sold out months ago and it is thanks to my friend, the Aikidoka extraordinaire Manolo San Miguel, that Megumi and I were able to attend the finals.

As we arrive at the Kokugikan arena, the atmosphere is already electric. The vividly colored banners bearing the names of fighters float in the wind while the sound of drums echoes down from the turrets located nearby. The southern entrance also allows viewers to welcome the fighters who arrive in dribs and drabs according to their time of passage.

Banners bearing the names of the Sumotori

Banners bearing the names of the Sumotori floating in the wind

Entrance of the Ryogoku Kokugikan

Entrance of the Ryoguku Kokugikan

Once we step inside and witness the number of people, we realize that Sumo in Japan is as popular as ever in spite of the many corruption scandals that marred the discipline, even forcing its authorities to cancel the tournament last year. All around the arena, the portraits of the previous 32 champions are exposed. They are actually giant photographs covered with oil paint. Two giant light panels are hung vertically and give the results of the fighting of the day as well as that of the decisive techniques.

The fighting area of the Kokugikan

The combat area of the Ryoguku Kokugikan

We are fortunate enough to have been able to rent two boxes which can each accommodate four people. Located lower down in the arena than the regular seats, theses boxes provide a fantastic view on the competition area. Regularly, hakama-wearing staffs bring tea and food to the guests sitting at this floor. An noteworthy detail is that for only 100 yen (2000 yen deposit), foreign viewers can rent a set of headphones and receiver in order to listen commentaries in English (from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm).

Manolo San Miguel and Guillaume Erard

The group of happy supporters

The bouts last all day, but spectators are allowed to leave the Kokugikan via the South Gate, where they get stamped on the hand with an invisible watermark detectable under UV, which allows them to re-enter later. Beware however that this procedure is only allowed once per person. For those wishing to stay all day, shops are available all around the arena to purchase baskets varied meals (bento) and beverages (including beer and sake). Visitors can also taste the favourite delicacy of the Sumos, the "Chanko", which is actually a potpourri of vegetables, meats, and other ingredients boiled in large pots. This dish is served at the Kokugikan from 12:00 am to 4:00 pm and it costs only 250 Yen.

Presentation of the intermediate class Sumotori

Presentation and ceremonial danse of the intermediary class Sumo

The event formally starts at 8:40 am with the fights between non-classified, apprentices Sumo. Then it is the turn of the wrestlers from the jonokuchi class, the lowest rank, followed by those of makushita (juniors). The Sumo of the intermediate division (Juryo) arrive around 2:00 pm and they start fighting at 2:50 pm. Before the combats starts, the Sumo perform a traditional dance wearing their ceremonial aprons (kesho-mawashi). It is at this level that the wrestlers are considered as true professional Sumo. Once the Juryo fighting division finished, the president of the Nihon Sumo Kyokai enters the ring accompanied by the four highest ranked Sumo (yokozuna, ozeki, sekiwake and komusubi) in order to deliver his opening remarks.

Sumos ready to fight

Two fighters getting ready to fight

The fighters of the upper division (makuuchi) step into the ring at 3:50 pm to perform their turn of kesho-mawashi. Immediately after, the yokozuna, accompanied by two assistants, greets the crowd and performs his ceremonial dance. The makuuchi division bouts begin at 4:15 pm and by now, the room is now completely full and excitement is high. At 5:15 pm, on the day of the final, the three best fighters in the east and west divisions step into the ring for a brief ceremony. The fighting then resume until 5:55 pm and the day finishes with the "bow dance" (yumitori-shiki). It is followed by the trophies presentation, including the Emperor’s Cup. The winner then gives a long speech to celebrate his victory.

The Emperor’s Cup

The Emperor’s Cup

To go further:

Guillaume Erard
Author: Guillaume Erard
A resident of Japan for nearly a decade, Guillaume Erard trains at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and he received the 5th Dan from Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba. He is also 3rd Dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, the secretive art that Morihei Ueshiba learned from Sokaku Takeda. Erard is the Information Director of the International Aikido Federation and the Deputy Secretary of International Affairs of the Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu Shikoku Headquarters. He is also passionate about science and education and holds a PhD in Molecular Biology.
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