JAPAN – Ceremony – Tradition – Sumo.

During our first Destination Journey to Japan we kept to a usual meeting time for dinner, 6.pm. However for the last few days of our time in Japan I was asked if we could delay our departure until 6.15… I wasn’t sure why but went with the request from my fellow travellers…

For many months before our travels I begin to become nervous as we ensure that all the finer details or our journey come together as planned… Especially the many surprise elements we hope to be able to include, some of which are not confirmed until a few days before we leave Australia. With a limit of only 12 guests it allows us to massage and manipulate each journey and leave some of the inclusions in limbo until the last possible moment.

Fortunately on our last two journeys to Japan, a few days before our departure we received confirmation that we were able to include a surprise Shinkansen journey from Hiroshima to Fukuoka. (Around the same distance as between Sydney and Canberra but only taking just over 1 hour on the bullet train). Not just another journey on a bullet train, we had confirmation that our travellers were able to spend the afternoon at the National Sumo tournament in Fukuoka.

When I first asked about the viability of travelling to witness a Sumo tournament our operators were not sure it would be something that would maintain the interest of our western clients.

Each Sumo bout may only last a mater minutes, indeed for some bouts it is only a matter of seconds – will the short time for the bouts keep us entertained . It is the tradition and ceremony that precedes each bout that is something to behold…

The Sumo Dohyo (ring) is swept before each bout, the sponsors advertise with a short procession with banners around the Dohyo. The Goji (referee), immaculately dressed in elaborate traditional silk outfits, enter the clay Dohyo to introduce the wrestlers.

The wrestlers enter the ring dressed only in their mawashi belt or loin cloth and each rikishi (wrestler) proceeds to set themselves for the upcoming bout with numerous rituals of their own – just like most other sports people.

The rikishi usually throw salt in the air to clean away spirits and then stomp on the floor to also squash the spirits and clap their hands to attract the attention of the gods.

The pair move towards the centre of the ring to squat into the starting positions by putting their clenched hands on the clay in front of themselves. But wait, to the ‘surprise’ of all the spectators one or both of the wrestlers pulls away and begins the mental preparation process again.  (I am not sure why the crowd are surprised as this delay happens every time.. yes every time, it’s tradition !!) They prepare again and the bout begins with the objective to push, pull and wrestle their opponent close to the edge of the ring forcing them to put some part of their body, hand, foot, head, whatever, outside the Dohyo.

After each bout the Goji conducts the next ceremony, by giving the winner an envelope with the prize winnings of 62,000 yen from the sponsors. The Dohyo is swept, the sponsors parade and the next bout begins…

I was amazed at the buzz in the carriage of our bullet train as we headed back to Hiroshima after or visit to the Sumo. (Not only amongst our group but also from the Japanese commuters when they realised we were all gushing about an afternoon at their traditional sport.)

I thought it would the gentlemen on the trip that would enjoy the Sumo visit the most, however, it is the ladies that were swept away with the tradition and ceremony.

Our visit to watch the wrestling was part way through the 15 day battle of the best 42 Sumo wrestlers in Japan . The tournament is televised every day on the T.V. and every night the tournament concludes… at 6.pm.

After our Sumo visit, unbeknown to me, each day when our touring of the sights concluded our guests would settle in and watch the last days of the wresting on the television..

Hence the request to delay our departure for dinner until 6.15 on the last few days of our time in Japan.

Click on the image below to see some footage from one of the Sumo bouts during our side trip to Fukuoka.

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