A Day Out at the EDION Arena: Haru 2019

Edion Arena - Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. Haru 2019
The EDION Arena in Osaka, Day 6 of the 2019 Haru basho

Ahoy sumo fans. I am here in Osaka, where I spent Day 6 of the Haru basho at the gymnasium/arena known as the EDION Arena for sponsorship purposes, also known as the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium not for sponsorship purposes!

Allow me to fill you in and transfer all of the vibes into your brain space:

Haru basho 2019 - EDION Arena/Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium
It’s easy to feel close to the action in Osaka

Atmosphere

Outside of Tokyo, I really think Osaka is the best basho. If you are from Nagoya or Fukuoka, I’m sorry. Actually I’m not that sorry, because those are cool places to be from. But it is hard to rival the atmosphere in Osaka, which most days verges – for sumo – on downright raucous. It’s loud and people have no shame in letting everyone know who they are cheering for.

I arrived during Jonidan, and as usual the place was milling with senior citizens, who typically come early with their copy of the torikumi and highlighters and go through all of the day’s matches. In that sense, the late morning crowd-watching is not unlike that of a bingo hall. It is incredible how much these elderly folks know all the lower division guys and then in many cases make their way to catch them leaving the shitakubeya for a photo.

Kakuryu vs Shodai - Haru basho 2019 Osaka
Kakuryu prepares to beat Shodai in the musubi-no-ichiban

This brings me to the next great Osaka tradition: waiting by the front door for rikishi to enter. They come right in the front door, and people get excited. There are clearly marked areas in the lobby where it is acceptable to stand. You can just wait there all day, and it is somewhat predictable what time the more popular rikishi will show up, but if you want to also see sumo, it can be a real lottery. You could miss good sumo and end up waiting for 10 mins just to see Tokushōryū as I did (no offense Tokushōryū, I’m sure you are a very cool guy and we are blessed to have smelled your binzuke). You had better like the scent of binzuke if you come to Osaka, because with so many rikishi passing you regularly in the halls, it is inescapable.

You can tell a lot from who the crowd largely supports by the nature of applause during the dohyo-iri. The two big names in Juryo this time were undoubtedly Aminishiki (potentially fighting his last tournament) and Enho, who is now solidly a crowd favorite. Since the crowd gets so much louder than it usually does at a basho, it’s easier to get a read on who has a few fans and who is legitimately popular at the moment. It’s fair to say Enho is now at least on the Chiyomaru level.

I got my tickets through buysumotickets.com, and ended up in what a fellow fan called “gaijin alley,” as typically happens since they block buy the tickets for overseas customers. I sat next to a family of very nice and friendly Australians, who stayed all the way to the end and were hugely interested and excited to see sumo for the first time. I have noticed plenty more fans from Australia coming to tournaments lately, so maybe study-abroad alumnus Ishiura has started doing protein shake commercials down under (Australians, please let us know in the comments!).

Snacks - Haru Basho 2019 Osaka
Snacks and gift boxes for sale at the Haru basho in Osaka

Food

I would probably rank Osaka third out of the four basho cities in terms of the availability and quality of food on offer in the venue (ahead of Fukuoka). This is a fairly shocking and damning indictment, given that Osaka is definitely-not-probably one of the greatest food cities, not only in Japan but in the world.

I grabbed some edamame as I was in need of sustenance, and it did not let me down. The yakitori, however, was far worse than at Kokugikan in Tokyo, and was a bit cold and slimy. My advice, if you’re planning to attend the Osaka basho, is to have a large breakfast beforehand and then either smuggle snacks in your backpack or just grab a couple things at the venue.

Food - Haru Basho 2019 Osaka
Katsu sandwiches, Yakitori and Edamame for sale in Osaka

You will find stuff like dried squid and cheese packs here, but the sweets game in Osaka is pretty weak. They do stock the usual rikishi/dohyo-decorated-cookie gift packs, but none of the Hello Panda action, candy, or NSK-branded treats like the wacky Hiyonoyama pancakes that you’ll get at Kokugikan. There is a restaurant in the basement that has a deep if uninspiring menu when compared with what lies outside – so you’re better off taking advantage of the single re-entry policy than eating at the venue. If I’m the NSK I would probably figure out a way to do a deal with a couple beloved local vendors, and play up the local culture in order to enhance the in-venue experience.

IMG_4634-1413617545-1552720215590.jpg
The East and West sides of the venue provide a much closer look of the action from the second level (right), owing to the shape of the gymnasium

Seats

This is where Osaka just flat-out wins. I had Arena “A” seats, which are the furthest back seats on either the east or west sides of the venue. The rectangle shape of the arena means that there’s a strong distance difference between Arena “A” and the Arena “B” & “C” seats, which are the furthest back on the front and back sides of the dohyo. The layout is very different from Kokugikan, where the A seats put you at the very front of the upper tier, so that’s something to bear in mind. The “S” and “SS” seats are the best upper tier seats.

This all being said, despite being in the penultimate row on the west side of the venue, the view is just incredible. You can very clearly see everything that’s going on, and you don’t feel far away from the action at all. In fact, I felt closer to the action in these seats than I did at a jungyo event in Koshigaya last year, in a local gymnasium.

Arigato Kisenosato - Thank you Kisenosato message board - Haru Basho 2019 Osaka
The “Thank You Kisenosato” message board for fans in Osaka

Merch & Experience

The official NSK merch booth got set up around 1pm, and it is staffed by oyakata. This booth always provides a good opportunity to interact with ex-rikishi you may have known and/or loved. It was a little odd to see someone like ex-Satoyama/now-Sanoyama, who very recently wrapped up his career, still with his mage, setting out the merch like a shop assistant. One of the oyakata started the daily sales by passing out fliers to and loudly hawking tickets for Satoyama’s danpatsushiki to the assembled masses, much to the bemusement of the soon-to-be-shorn ex-sekitori.

The hot item at this booth was the limited edition Kisenosato collector’s photo and postcard set. I told Bruce during our Hatsu basho podcast that it felt like it wouldn’t be until Haru that his retirement would feel more real, because we wouldn’t see him around the place as much. Well, guess what? We now see him more than we have in years! In addition to the new merch items, the rest of the stalls still ran a robust trade in Kisenosato merchandise, a huge “Arigato Kisenosato” board was erected for fans to write their thank-yous and memories (a really nice touch), and the man himself has been all over the arena and TV as he comes to watch Takayasu every day. I wouldn’t be surprised if the robust merch offerings are on offer at the Natsu basho in Tokyo, as well as the “thank you” message board.

The NSK did a slight revamp of their “purikura” feature which allows fans to take photos in pre-selected frames and share to their social media profiles. However, this was broken for most of the day, so I wasn’t able to try it out. They really should bring back the old, proper purikura box they used to have.

Merch - Haru basho 2019
T-shirts (including Kisenosato’s) on sale at the arena, including the name of each rikishi’s stable

As for rikishi merchandise, local man Ikioi’s merch was very scarce compared to last year’s Osaka basho, and even Osaka superstar Ozeki Goiedo wasn’t as well represented as some of the hot young names of the moment. After the top ranks, the usual suspects – Abi, Asanoyama, Takakeisho, Hokutofuji – were very big sellers. There were a few more Tamawashi items than usual, owing to his recent yusho. The diversity of merchandise and gifts was quite good: the offerings easily rivalled that of Kokugikan in selection if not in volume. One item I had never seen before was shochu, the bottles of which were branded with the shikona of various Yokozuna and Ozeki.

Tachiai will be heading back to the EDION Arena for Day 11’s action – if you have information you’d like to know about the sumo experience – let us know in the comments! We’ll be happy to answer, or find out for ourselves and report back!

12 thoughts on “A Day Out at the EDION Arena: Haru 2019

  1. When I was there last year, I found the katsu sandwiches to be tasty and filling. And they have bento boxes containing a variety of stuff, including several kinds of tempura. I got the medium-size one and it was very very good. Too bad I didn’t get to eat all of it (an oykata asked me to give my stair-side place up for a club-footed boy, and hurrying to do so I overturned the bento box… ☹️)

    I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the S places. To me they felt like in the stratosphere. Even with my glasses on I could barely recognize the wrestlers.

    • Wow, really? Those S seats are certainly closer to the dohyo than any upper-tier seat at any of the four stadia (Nagoya’s a bit weird though, it kind of feels like a bowl). I didn’t have much issue from the A section. I was 10 rows up – contrast that with Kokugikan… while I always say there isn’t a bad seat in the house of sumo, the Arena C seats in Tokyo are pretty hard on the neck.

      I’ll take your recommendation and grab one of the katsu sandwich boxes on Wednesday. Hopefully it’s better than the yakitori! The bento selection was SUPER limited and only available in one or two places (as opposed to Tokyo where the rikishi-themed boxes are omnipresent), and I only saw the super-deluxe bento which I think went for ¥2400.

      • About the bento boxes, when you get there in the morning, ask the stall attendants when the bento packs arrive. They arrive at a certain time before noon and of course they run out of the popular ones pretty quickly.

        I can’t compare with other arenas, of course. It was just a personal impression – that if you are not in the masu-seki, you’re screwed. Your photo also seems to have been taken from orbit. If it’s worse in the other arenas… Well, it’s not as if I’m ever likely to go to Japan again. So no need to keep notes, I guess.

        • Ha re: orbit – I did walk all the way up to the very back wall in order to do the top photo… I wanted to try and get a panorama of the entire arena. The only issue I have with doing a panorama at least on iPhone is that you have to set the focus on the very first frame of the panorama – so when you have something like the dohyo in the middle with a ton of light on it, it just appears super bright and blurry and unfocused.

          I’ve actually never once sat in the box seats (since you have to buy in packs of 4 and it’s usually just me plus one friend, or me by myself, it’s never made a lot of financial sense – but perhaps that changes if we do some kind of Tachiai meet up at Natsu or later in the year, who knows). If I’m able to get out to the soken in May, hopefully I can get a free box seat! But I haven’t had too much issue seeing the detail (even though I do tend to watch the highlights back after).

          Kokugikan is probably a little different from the perspective that the second tier is very steep, so you have more of an overhead view and it can still be clear even if you are further than in Osaka. They all have quite different sight lines, but I think Osaka is probably the best in that regard (ask me again after I’ve been down the far end in the B section next week….)

          • Alert: the Soken in May is not open to the public. The NSK mumbled something about it being too close to the extended Golden Week this year, and they are afraid if people decide to do the soken, they won’t buy tickets for honbasho or something.

            • Whaaaaat!? That is disappointing. They are dialing up the Kisenostalgia especially on social media – and I think you can feel the whiffs of desperation with some of it… but I would be stunned if that were somehow all of the sudden a problem in Tokyo of all places. Nagoya, I get it, there’s no air conditioning in the arena, just giant blocks of ice and the humid weather is awful. But May in Tokyo, there’s loads of tourists, everyone’s amped up, there’s a new emperor, come on.

              I was there for the soken last year and I seem to remember it being pretty close to golden week then as well, extended or otherwise. That’s weak from the NSK. It’s also not exactly as if the soken last year, when we did have Kisenosato, was much more than half full. If you didn’t get a box set, you were sitting in the first row of the upper tier. It’s a cool event don’t get me wrong, but it’s so different from a basho, it’s just like a big keiko party (I appreciate this may make some of our readers be more interested in the soken than a basho perhaps…. haha)

              • Yeah. My pet conspiracy theory is that there was such a bad reaction from Hakuho’s fans about the YDC last basho (When the “beard man and fellas” more than hinted that Hakuho was faking injury) – that they are afraid if the soken was open there would be open protest, not to say cat-calls.

          • The box seats are great, at least in Tokyo and Fukuoka, where I had them, but I have no idea how you want to squeeze in 4 western guys there … even if you do super well in your Yoga classes … sometime you just have to stretch a leg 😉 I once had a special offer, where they sold boxes for 2 persons only, I believe that were the boxes in the corners. That was pretty comfortable.
            I only was in Osaka in 2010 and 2011 and back then there was no trouble in getting tickets. Had I known about it at that time, I could have probably gotten very close to the ring as well, but this were my first ventures into sumo, so I had been more price sensitive, than I would be now;)

  2. Damn, we could have met!
    I was there this Friday with the whole family. we sat in a “B” masu facing the gyoji. I got my tickets on the official ticket site the minute they went on sale last month which meant that I was surrounded by Japanese. As local boy Goeido got the loudest support in my area.
    As for the merch, I was missing the signed and framed trading cars that are on sale from time to time.

    • Ah! No way!

      Re: cards, that’s right, you’re in the facebook group. You’d have had to have been eagle eyed to spot, but one thing that was possible to find was a box full of super old cards (1997 edition!!!) which was tucked away in the back corner of either the 2nd or 3rd floor merch stall, one of the corners not near a shitakubeya… behind a bunch of dusty old magazines and comic books. The cards were going for about 100 yen each. So hardcore collectors (unlike me!!) might have been able to get some good finds in there.

      How was the view from the B seats? That’s where I’ll be on Day 11. Hopefully I get a cool atmosphere like you did!!

  3. I was there Day 1 & 2. i had the best time. Quick tip. As anyone who reads this will arrive early during the lower divisions walk in and sit on the dohyo side cushions for a few bouts. They are always empty prior to Juryo and nobody seemed to mind us sitting there. Be respectful and don’t eat whilst there and you may be surprised how long you can be there. It was the best part of a great two days.

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