It is not an everyday occurrence for me to feel petite when in Japan; typically I can see from one end of a crowded subway car to the other, looking over the heads of my fellow riders, and it must be said that I take up rather more horizontal space than the average Japanese as well. So, I was quite looking forward to scoping out the latest round of sumo bouts in Ryogoku, where even the most diminutive of competitors boasts a girth that puts my not-insubstantial belly measurement to shame. These guys are big. How big, you ask? Okay, let’s see…bigger than a West Virginia Wal-Mart-shopping housewife pushing a cart spilling over with family-sized packages of Pringles, Moon Pies, full-strength Mountain Dew, and Little Debbie brownies. Bigger than her husband, even.
The first (and only other) time I went to a sumo tournament, I had seats high up in the 10,000 seat auditorium; two rows higher, and oxygen would have been required, and perhaps a tether to prevent cheapskate sumophiles from floating off into space. And even those seats ran forty bucks plus. This time, the seats were offered at a much more attractive price—free. The reason for this is that there was a bit of scandal in the sumo ranks earlier this year, in which several competitors admitted to rigging bouts. In penance, the Japan Sumo Association cancelled the March tournament entirely, and made the May match available to spectators for free. A seat lottery was announced, accessible by computer or phone, and the first ten thousand lucky (and/or determined) respondents won admission into the tournament. My seat was only eleven rows up into the raised section of the stands, close enough that I could recognize facial features on some of the better-known wrestlers. “Seat” is perhaps a bit of a misnomer; actually it was a thin foam pad on a three-foot square of floor. Because it was a corner property, it was zoned for only two inhabitants rather than the usual four, so we actually had room for two to stretch our legs a bit, unthinkable luxury that would have set us back a couple of hundred bucks apiece in normal times.
I’d like to go on record now to say it was a rollicking good match. One of the high points was when comparatively small and lithe (as sumo guys go) Takanoyama Shuntaro, at six feet tall and 200-odd pounds, made short work of Tsurugidake Teruki, a human haystack weighing in at north of 360 pounds. Takanoyama received a standing ovation for this upset. The final bout was between Hakuho Sho, the 6’4”, 340-pound odds-on favorite to win not only the bout, but also the entire tournament, and Takekaze Akira, a 310-pounder who stands only 5’7” and change. There were no surprises here; Hakuho dispatched Takekaze in seconds flat. The tournament is not over yet, but Hakuho is unbeaten thus far, and he looks more than able to go the distance.
And me, well, I am basking in the afterglow of feeling inordinately petite, even if for such a short time.