Ryogoku can be found on the Sobu line in Tokyo, easily distinguishable by it’s yellow color trains, not far from the city center. Usually a relatively sleepy area, this is where the sumo wrestlers have their stables in Tokyo. This is the name given to the schools in which they live and train throughout their sumo career.
May, September and January are the best months to really see this area in all it’s glory, as this is when the major sumo tournaments take place in Tokyo. They last for a period of approximately 2 weeks until the ultimate Champion wins on the last day. To the uninitiated, you may think why bother? It’s just a bunch of big blokes pushing each other out of a ring. When you see it in reality though, there is an electricity and passion in the auditorium that can only really be appreciated when experienced.
There are rituals and ceremonies throughout the proceedings that just beg the question, “Why”? Natural curiosity takes over and you end up spellbound by the antics and effort taking place in the ring. The referee is like none you will see in soccer or football. Robed in an ornate and highly ceremonial kimono, he oversees the battle of wills and makes the decision when things are close. What wins a round? The first sumo to push the other out of the ring or the first to touch the floor with any part of their body other than their feet. Game over.
The auditorium is huge and echoes with the sounds of both adults and children calling the name of their favorite wrestler and willing them to win when it’s their turn. Each fight generally lasts a maximum of 30 seconds, although there is the odd exception that draws gasps as the two sumos seem irrevocably locked together. However, no matter how short the round may be, all eyes are trained on the wrestlers for as long as it takes to produce the winner.
If you need a bit of fresh air and fancy a wander through the streets, this is when you will see the guys who have already finished their fights for the day, going for lunch or heading home. It really is quite bizarre. On the whole, most Japanese are not what you would call big. It’s quite a shock to see 3 massive sumos walking towards you down the middle of the street. One thing’s for sure – you won’t get in their way!
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