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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Japan trip - day five - Osaka

Took it easy today, after all, I'm on holiday. That meant going out in the late morning only to get something to eat… and to buy the ticket for today's sumo wrestling tournament!

First thing I did was to check for ticket availability at the sumo website. Unfortunately, it isn't updated in real-time. By 8am though, it had been refreshed to state that all of the 2,000-yen general admission tickets were sold out. That meant I would have to get the more expensive, reserved seating tickets, though those promised a better view.

To obtain that ticket, I had to buy online, but that required registering with the ticketing agent with a Japanese address and phone number, both of which I don't have. I could also buy a ticket at the Family Mart or Lawson convenience stores.

So I went out to the Family Mart nearby and enquired with the cashier about getting a ticket. For some reason, he didn't understand me, even when I said "sumo". I had assumed that it's sufficiently Japanese-sounding that he should know what I was referring to. But he didn't understand me, and I didn't know how else to describe sumo wrestling.

I then went to the Lawson store that was two blocks away. Made the same enquiry with the cashier. This time, a female employee who sort of understood me directed me to a kiosk. She entered the date for the tournament… and it showed that no tickets were available. That wasn't what I'd seen on the website, even from the online ticket purchase site.

For a moment, I contemplated skipping this more-or-less once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I went back to my hotel room and tried purchasing online, using the hotel's address and phone number, but no luck.

Then I did what I should've done originally: write down the Japanese words for the sumo wrestling tournament, including which seats I wanted. With that in hand, I returned to the Family Mart store and showed the cashier my note. He understood me now, though I think he didn't even know that there was a tournament on.

It took a while to find the right screen. Apparently, the tournament also doesn't show up as a prominent selection. Eventually, he managed to select the right ticket. And then it asked for a Japanese phone number. When I said that I didn't have one, the cashier proceeded to enter (I think) his own number. With that done, the purchase was completed, I handed over my money, and got my ticket. Yay!

I lounged around till about 2:30pm, then took the subway to Namba station and walked to the Osaka Gymnasium, venue of the tournament. I saw a crowd outside, with a noticeable gap. Apparently, I had arrived just in time to see a sumo wrestler arrive! He was greeted like a Hollywood celebrity at the Oscar ceremony. By the time I got my camera out, though, I only managed to take a picture of his back.
Rear view of a sumo wrestler at Osaka Prefectural GymnasiumSumo banners outside Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium

I entered the building and asked for the way to my seat, since the signs didn't seem too clear, or maybe they were clear in Japanese. I found myself seated about 25 rows away from the ring. With my naked eye, I could see the wrestling clearly. But with my phone camera and iPod nano, the wrestlers appeared as tiny, one-centimetre-tall figures. At least I could zoom in with my phone camera, but the pictures came out blurry.
Before the sumo tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium

While waiting for the tournament to begin, two young Japanese men seated next to me started chatting with me. One spoke English and translated on his friend's behalf. When they saw my phone and iPod nano, they asked about it. I guess my phone is like a dinosaur next to theirs.

At 3:30pm, an announcer entered the ring with a few wrestlers to welcome the spectators to the tournament. A short while later was the dohyo-iri, the wrestlers' entrance from two ends. When some wrestlers' names were announced, the crowd cheered loudly. Following this was the yokozuna's entrance, which the crowd enjoyed.
Welcoming the spectators at Osaka Prefectural GymnasiumYokozuna's entrance at Osaka Prefectural GymnasiumReferees' entrance at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium

During the 10-minute break before the start of the matches, some spectators took the chance stretch their legs. The two Japanese youths next to me went to get a meal from McDonald's.

And then the matches began! There were about 20 matches for the day. While recording these, I would learn that each match lasts slightly more than five minutes, from the time the announcer announces their names to the rewarding of the victor. Nearly four minutes of that time is spent when the wrestlers eyeball each other. According to the free guide book (given to non-Japanese only, apparently), this helps the wrestlers size up their opponents while also waiting for the right moment to strike.

The wrestle proper lasts about half a minute, or a minute at most. That, of course, is when the crowd cheered the loudest, especially when popular wrestlers were competing. Even after today, I still can't figure out the technique behind sumo wrestling. It just seems like a lot of pushing to get the opponent out of the ring or lose his balance and fall. But I guess there are proper ways of sumo wrestling that won't be known to the untrained eye.

Also, before wrestling, the wrestlers toss salt in the ring to cleanse it and supposedly protect them from injuries. In between matches, sweepers would sweep away the salt and smoothen out the clay (which the ring is made of). I wonder how much these sweepers get paid.

In between matches, I would also see some people parading banners around the ring. I thought that these were to announce the category or house or something similar. According to the Japanese men, these were actually advertisements by the sponsors! No wonder I kept seeing the same banners!

The whole tournament ended at 6pm. During this whole time, I saw a lot of empty seats, especially in the general admission sections. I overheard a Japanese woman explain to her American husband that the banners above the stage stated that all of the tickets were sold out. If so, it seems that spectators attend only portions of the entire tournament.
After the sumo tournament at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium

Also, unlike American sports like football, sumo wrestling doesn't seem very popular, or at least in Osaka. There were no large crowds in the streets around the gymnasium. There were, as mentioned, empty seats. And the two Japanese youths were watching this tournament for the first time in their lives (though they knew who the wrestlers were and the common chants). I couldn't help but feel like this illusion of sumo's popularity in Japan had been shattered today.

After the tournament, I decided to walk around Namba, since I wasn't too tired and hadn't really explored this southern end of Osaka. There are a lot of shops with many bright, blinking lights. Nowhere near as glitzy as Times Square or even Shinjuku in Tokyo, but still quite colourful.
Namba at night in Osaka

Craving for noodles again, I ate udon at an eatery before heading back to the hotel.
Udon with tempura and rice

Strange thing happened to me while bathing: the water suddenly shut off! Fortunately, I had already finished bathing. Still, it was weird. I don't know if a pump had been accidentally turned off or there's a water limit per room or something else. Anyway, after drying myself, I tried the taps again and water flowed as usual. So that was a weird experience.



Zona Indonesia said...

Sumo an interesting game .. because the participants are also special ... why did they sprinkle salt.?

Yuhui said...

They sprinkle salt to "cleanse" the ring.

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