(Alternate Title: I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie)
For anyone out there who may be wondering, my interest in Japan goes back waaaay longer than my interest in anime. When I was in third or fourth grade, my gifted class did a study of Japan and visited the collection at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, which served as my gateway, and later this would become my art home. This influenced me to choose Asian Art for my non-Western history course, even though African/Oceanc/etc was usually considered to be the easier way to go.. Even now that I have been infected with otaku fever, I have a lot more reasons to want to live in Japan than just access to all the merch (although that definitely figures into my list). Just like I'd been wanting to see a proper geisha dance since my first visit, there was another spectacle that I've been trying to catch throughout my travels to Japan, and Thursday I finally got to experience it: sumo wrestling.
Five is the kind of adventurous person who likes to try everything, so when I told her I wanted to attend a sumo tournament she was like, "Alright, cool." Apparently I gave her the impression that it was in Osaka. Perhaps because when I told her all I could remember was that it was close by. Sort of. Himeji isn't technically in the same region - it's in Hyogo, whereas the rest of our trip was spent in Kansai - but it's not that far either. A two hour train ride isn't terrible, especially since sumo tournaments typically take place during odd-numbered months, and I seem to always be on vacation in the evens. However, there are a few special tournaments that take place in April. When I went to Tokyo three years ago, I missed the special tournament at the Yasukuni shrine by a few days. I wasn't going to let it happen again.
The tournament in Himeji actually started at 8, but after a long day at USJ we were in no hurry to get anywhere that early, except possibly the McDonald's up the road in Shinsaibashi. We managed to pull into Himeji Station around 11 and after a bite of ramen, made our way to the gymnasium - about a half hour's walk. When we got in we were given a program, a calendar (in case we wanted to catch some wrestling later this year), and a plastic bag for our shoes. We got some help finding our seats (Japanese-size, just like on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey) and figured we'd come in on some sort of opening ceremony. There was a drummer playing some mad beats, and then all of the wrestlers paraded in, led by the referee, wearing these beautiful embroidered apron-like cloths called a keshomawashi (I had to look that one up, I'd never seen pictures of them before). Some of them were carrying their babies with them, which Five thought was cute and I thought had the effect of making them seem even bigger than they already did.
Then before the actual wrestling, we got to see a wrestler have his hair done. They all had their hair tied up in a topknot, which is part of the sumo lifestyle, it turns out. It took at least 10 minutes (based on my file details...but it felt like it took longer).
Finally it was time for the main event. My knowledge of sumo was almost non-existent, but I did realize there is a certain amount of ceremony to it. Being Japanese, there is a fair amount of bowing. Being a sport, there's some posturing thrown in as well. Even ignorant gaijin like
But apparently, as I've learned while reading up on it, there's a religious side to sumo as well. I'd seen the salt-throwing before, and knew that it was about purification (have I ever mentioned that I've watched a lot of anime in the last three years?), but it turns out that religious tradition still has a lot to do with sumo. The canopy overhead is even modeled after the roof of a shinto shrine.