Sumo Wrestling in Fukuoka

Every year there are six grand Sumo tournaments in Japan, held in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. Each tournament lasts for 15 days, and we were lucky enough to see the second last day of the Fukuoka tournament in November.

A quintessentially Japanese experience, the sumo tournament begins at 9 and lasts until around 6, making for a very long day for the spectators. The lower ranked wrestlers compete early in the day, with the matches leading up to the grand champions in the the evening. Many attendees don’t show up until around 4, just in time to see the higher ranked wrestlers compete. We were there around 2, as we wanted to have time to explore and learn a little about Sumo. It gave us a chance to see the Sumo wrestlers walking around outside in their traditional uniforms, and marvel at their sheer size. As well we had plenty of time to buy Hello Kitty’s dressed like Sumo wrestlers, Sumo magnets, Sumo ear cleaners and other hilarious memorabilia.

As the sumo wrestlers enter the ring, they take their place around the circle and are introduced to the crowd. Wrestlers compete in two groups – east and west, and are paired off with someone else in their skill level from the opposite group. Every day they compete against a different opponent, and the scores from the tournament are added up at the end to declare the grand champion.

Each bout lasts only a few seconds, and the first wrestler to touch the ground outside the marked ring loses the match. Thought the matches were often short and anticlimactic, the mental preparation component before the bout could last up to four minutes, with each wrestler stomping his legs, shouting and throwing salt in the ring.

Sumo has faced many problems lately: allegations of match fixing prompted organizers to cancel the spring grand tournament in Osaka and attendance at tournaments is declining, as most of the fans are elderly, with few young people interested in the sport. However, I thoroughly enjoyed our time at the Fukuoka tournament, and would go again if I had a chance. One of my favourite parts was the advertising. Instead of traditional sporting event advertising of billboards or panels, Sumo wrestlers carried out banners advertising many Japanese brands, and of course, McDonalds.

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