Sumo and Envy

After Jake and Katy left it was back to work for me. I led a relaxed life the few weekends after, which suited me nicely as it was nice to do nothing, like catch up on reading, gaming and music. However, I had something rather special to look forward to. The previous month I had booked tickets for a day at the summer Tokyo sumo wrestling tournament that was held at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo hall. The tickets sell out relatively quickly as there are only 6 sumo tournaments held each year, three in the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the others each in Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya. So I did not manage to get the best seats in the house, the ones that are literally metres from the ring, but instead seating tickets on the second floor mezzanine. The day crept up fast and it was time to see some belling slapping salt throwing action. The tickets allowed us entry from 8am, a time that is a bit hardcore early seeing as bouts do not start until around 10.30 and end around 6pm. So still fairly eager to get our moneys worth I met my friend Cam outside at around 10. The Ryogoku Kokugikan is extremely close to the station and it stands out quite a bit. It is a huge square building with a dominating pyramid like roof, and is very hard to miss. On my way there I spotted a few “rikishi” (sumo wrestlers) dressed in colourful robes, wearing “geta”, the traditional wooden sandals, getting of the train with the rush of everyone else, towering over the normal Japanese person.

We went inside, and found our seats. The place was fairly empty as it was still early in the day and the big stars did not come on until much later. Although this was good for us as we could wander around and admire the place. We walked as far down to the ring, or “dohyo”, as we could and got a few snaps. The dohyo itself is only about 7-8 metres square but it made out from a huge metre thick slab of clay and the huge “tsuriyane” hovers over it. The tsuriyane looks like a roof stolen off a Shinto shrine with 4 giant coloured tassels hanging down from each corner to symbolise each of the four seasons. The first set of matches started, the lower class rikishi fighting for promotion into a higher ranking. The bouts sometimes only last a matter seconds if a competitor is heavily out skilled or out weighed, as there are no weight limits or classifications. However, we witnessed this one fight between a slightly muscly built skinny guy and a ginormous fat guy, and to much of the crowds surprise the skinny guy flattened the big chubber. We watched a few of these matches to get the feel of the vibe and the game. Despite the low ranking, you would still get the odd fan screaming out a name for encouragement.

Later we ducked out to fill our boots with food and beer as to make ourselves comfortable for when the big boys came on. On the way back in Cam spotted a sumo special プリクラ (print club) photo booth, where you could get a creepy distorted photo of yourself with a superimposed picture of the top dogs of Sumo. It was too hard to resist. Back inside we got ourselves comfortable and watched the remaining lower ranked matches until the “maku-uchi” ranks started. These include the top five ranks of sumo, right up to the “Yokuzuna”, the highest ranked rikishi. Before these ranking bouts start the group from the east and then the west come on to the dohyo wearing their elaborately embroidered aprons and gather in a circle and perform an entrance ceromony. Then each bout started after a wailing tune was sung from a kimono clad man. These wrestlers did not just jump into conflict, instead they were allowed time to intimidate their opponent by glaring at them slapping themselves all over and roaring. They throw salt to cleanse the dohyo and their bodies of evil spirits, which is then neatly swept away by a budding team of sweepers. The rikishi showboating performances got the crowd excited with anticipation, and the screams and shouts got louder the higher the rikishi threw the salt or the more intense the stare got. Then suddenly after one final stare they would crash into each other to force their opponent out of the ring or chuck them to the floor. Some would push with such force that their opponent would fly right out of the ring and crush a referee or an unlucky spectator. Others would make a fatal wrong footing and loose balance, falling down to their defeat. If both fell at the same time in a tumble the referees would gather and decide on a winner. When it got to the really high ranks, lines of men would circle round the dohyo holding scrolls of the rishiki’s sponsors. Nothing is modern about sumo. It felt as if I was watching it 200 years ago it would be exactly the same. When the final Yokuzuna fight started each rikishi performed their own entrance ceremony, with surprising dexterity, raising up their legs and stamping their feet, then finishing with a shuffling movement up the white lines of the dohyo. They both fought with might, but the stronger Yokuzuna, Hakuho, was declared the winner after throwing his opponent to the floor. He was then honored with a bow with which he performed a final victory display, waving and spinning it all around the place. So then after countless amounts of bouts, some more exciting than others, it was all over, but I can say I was amazed by my first sumo experience.

The next weekend I had something completely different lined up. Teru had managed to get us guest pass tickets for the Japanese post-hardcore band “Envy”. I was really interested to see them as in my interview for Intersect me and Teru talked about them as I expressed interest in the Japanese band “Mono”, who are friends with Envy as they are both signed to “Temporary Residence” records for releases in America, and I said I also like “Errors” and “Mogwai”, who are both signed with Envy to the UK label “Rock Action”. Teru has been translating lyrics for Envy for about 15 years now, I even helped out on one, meaning he is good friends with band, thus why he was able to get good tickets. It was on a Saturday so we had work but Teru had arranged it so we had minimal lessons and could get off early. The gig was held at Liquid Rooms in Ebisu, Tokyo, a relatively large capacity venue, and where I previously saw Beach House. They were the only band to play as it was the start of their 20 year anniversary tour. They played for over 2 hours and were loud, pretty diverse, playing old and new songs, the old ones being faster and harder the newer ones being more progressive and layered. I had not been to a gig like that for a long time and it was really refreshing to get my ears blasted. The crowd were loving it, moshing and crowd surfing. The lot. There seemed to be a lot of devoted fans, especially this one really odd white guy that insisted on running around and shouting “Yeeeeaaaaah! in people faces, which I’m sure impressed no one . There is always one arkward white guy. After their impressive set Teru got us back stage to say hello to his old friends. Although we did not stay that long. The intensity of the Japanese was a bit too much for me to get involved, however, I did get to say “hi” to the band. Later headed home ears ringing, satisfied by a night of good music.

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