My first taste of sumo came on the most exciting day of the Haru basho so far, with both Yokozuna wrestlers sensationally beaten by lesser opponents! Young Mongolian Hakuho was swiftly dispatched by Ozeki Chiyotaikai, before “the Daddy” Asashoryu was pushed out by Kotoshogiku. With just three days remaining, all is set up for a dramatic showdown between the two yokozuna on Sunday.

Ring Entering Ceremony

Ancient Shinto Stuff

Asashoryu, “The Daddy” of Sumo

The Arena

Our band of five arrived at the arena mid-afternoon, just as the initial juryo matches were winding down, and before the ring entering ceremony of the makuuchi. The arena is fantastically constructed- the clay dohyo in the centre, with a replica Shinto shrine hanging over it, and cushioned boxes gently sloping up on all sides. Japanese, young and old, families and friends, reclined on purple cushions while eating snacks and drinking beer, coming and going while the action continued in the centre. Beyond the boxes are the arena seats where we were sitting, more popular with foreigners (probably because they’re cheaper!), steeply sloped and with a great view of the action. I imagine you could be transported back 200 years and be greeted by a similar setup- sumo remains imbued with the Shinto traditions of Japan, and the way it is played and watched is so uniquely Japanese, unlike other “borrowed” sports that are popular here.

Hakuho in zen-like calm before his bout

Calm Before The Storm- you could cut the tension with a knife!

After the ring entering ceremony, the makuuchi bouts got underway. As the bouts increased in importance, the atmosphere in the arena grew- this is sustained in particular by the 4 minute “face offs” opponents go through before actually attacking. Then it was time for the Yokozuna to make their entrance. First up was Hakuho, who charged straight at his opponent Chiyotaikai, but was pulled down, pushed away and sent sprawling so quickly that a shocked gasp went up from the crowd. Hakuho’s loss gave Asashoryu a great chance to all but wrap up victory in this tournament, if he could dispatch his opponent Kotoshogiku. There was a long build up to the final match- banners displaying the sponsors of the finale were paraded round the ring- before the four minutes of staring and stamping got underway. Asashoryu in particular had real gravitas; his weight and girth being backed up by an eagle-eyed stare and a bullying swagger. When the wrestlers finally crouched down into attack position there was a pause, a moment frozen in time- and then they clashed! I’d decided to support Asashoryu, but as soon as it became clear that his opponent had a chance to beat him, I switched to the underdog. The roars in the crowd got louder and louder as Kotoshogiku shoved his illustrious opponent closer and closer to the edge. He huffed and puffed until finally Asashoryu was out of the ring, shock written across his face, with people leaping up, cheering and raining cushions down onto the dohyo in recognition of the dramatic upset. It was an amazing end to the day, and we were really lucky to see such dramatic action; Asashoryu had held a perfect 11-0 record going into the bout, while Hakuho was 10-1 before his loss. The only downside was that we didn’t get to see Kotooshu, the “David Beckham” of sumo, as he was out injured.

The Moment Of Impact! Asashoryu vs Kotoshogiku

The crowd senses defeat for Asashoryu…

…and the cushions come flying! Yatta!