Arif's Journeys » Travel and Photography Blog of Arif Iqball

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A Day of Sumo at the Ryogoku Kokugikan

Sumo with a history of many hundred years represents the essence of Japan and Shintoism within all its traditions and fanfare.  At one time, the sport allowed kids who had difficulty finding work, the ability and dignity of living a respectable life while teaching them about perseverance and hard work. That whole history of tradition and honor lately came under fire due to game fixing scandals and the public interest, already distracted by the tsunami tragedy, waned to the point that the Tokyo Bassho (one of the six major championships during the year) did not sell out in advance. However, as the Bassho progressed, there emerged the prospect of a new champion who was Japanese and that prompted previous supporters to return and cheer. It was unclear till the last day of the tournament as to who would be the champion with the reigning champion Hakuho and the Japanese contender Kotoshogiku both needing to win on the last day to lay a stake at the title.

With the new Japanese Prime Minister in attendance, the crowd cheered their favorites hoping for Kotoshogiku to beat the Estonian Baruto and it certainly seemed that Kotoshogiku knew that there was history to be made and that a win would allow him to be the only Japanese whose picture would be hung among all the other recent champions on the walls of this Sumo shrine.  A false start allowed Kotoshogiku’s opponent Baruto to prepare and thwart the first move and eventually allowed Baruto to win.  The only hopes for the crowd were if Hakuho would also lose but Hakuho prevailed becoming one of only six Sumo champions with more than 20 championship wins.  Kotoshogiku’s fine performance allowed him to be promoted to the title of Ozeki.  At the young age of 27, there are high hopes for Kotoshogiku from Japanese sumo lovers and one looks forward to the rivalry with the 26 year old Hakuho.

Watching 50+ matches and the different levels of the contenders for the length of the day, I could appreciate Sumo’s systematic and disciplined process of working up through the ranks for not only the Sumo wrestlers, but also the referees.  Yesterday marked the last day for the 35th Kimura Shonosuke (name bestowed to the top referee) who served as a referee for 50 years.  In Sumo, the last match of the day is the most important and is refereed by the Kimura Shonosuke. The next championship will thus see a new Kimura Shonosuke and the tradition will continue and with it the hopes of the sport winning back the hearts of many more viewers.

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Czech born "Takanoyama" throws salt into the ring to start his match

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Takanoyama being knocked to the ground

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Using one of many techniques, a wrestler knocks the legs out from under the feet of his opponent

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Blood drips on to the sacred ring as the wrestlers collide

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A confident Kotoshogiku enters the ring for a chance at the Championship

Hakuho fights for the championship against fellow Mongolian Harumafuji as Kimura Shonosuke looks on

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Japanese Prime Minister Noda hands the Championship trophy to Hakuho

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Grand Champion Hakuho leaves Ryogoku Kokugikan for the Champion's Parade

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