It’s been three long years. Long time readers of the site will know that in the “before-times,” I made every effort to attend honbasho and other events to try and grab interesting content for the site – interviews, the soken, the jungyo, ‘day out‘ experiences at the basho, Ozeki Bento reviews, etc. Hopefully, you found some of it to be enjoyable!
I was in Osaka three years ago, with tickets in hand, when the proclamation came down that Haru 2020 was to be the silent basho. Obviously none of us could have expected what the coming days, weeks, months and years would have in store. How lucky, in retrospect it felt that, in good health, a friend and I were able to take in the basho from quiet cocktail bars in Osaka’s dark alleys. The city felt empty and weird. Everything that followed has obviously profoundly impacted sumo over the course of the last few years, and have touched all of us here at Tachiai in some significant way, and probably you as well.
In the interim, the Sumo Association did what they could to keep the sport ticking. They got some big calls right and some wrong, but there was no playbook for this, and by and large it’s been refreshing that every two months we could continue to bury ourselves in some engrossing storylines. I am deeply grateful for that.
Now, I’m happy to report it’s time for me to return to sumo. I’m a little nervous, I don’t really know what to expect! Haru has always been my favourite basho, by a street. But all of the factors that make it great are things I’m not sure if I can expect to encounter next week in Osaka.
In line with the prevailing gregarious stereotype of the place itself, the Haru basho is known as the wild basho. The EDION Arena can be a raucous ol’ box of a venue and – while there will absolutely never be a time when I would willingly turn down a trip to the hallowed grounds of the Kokugikan, one of the best and most unique venues in all of sport – there’s no better time to see sumo than in a packed house of Kansai natives letting loose when one of the native sons – an Ura, an Ikioi (in days gone by) – has provided some form of monstrous entertainment on the dohyo.
It’s also a venue that allows you, the spectator, to get up close and personal with the rikishi. Like the other regional basho, the big names walk in right through the front door. The placement of the shitakubeya also means that rikishi have to walk through souvenir stalls to reach the hanamichi, which often provides a great opportunity to shout some messages of support, cheer for a rikishi on their way to or from the dohyo, or grab a selfie afterwards. Very few sports already offer the kind of access that is possible with sumo, and the Osaka tournament offers some of the best of those experiences.
So with that being said, it will be interesting to see what awaits. While many of the pandemic-era restrictions have been walked back over the past few tournaments, what kind of atmosphere will emerge this year in Osaka? Will it be like the tournaments we knew, or will it be something else altogether? Will fans yet be able to interact with rikishi? And of course, now there’s a new wild card on the scene, as roving reporter Hiro Morita has made a habit of popping up in public at tournaments for his wonderful Sumo Prime Time channel, and chatting especially to foreign fans who may not have really felt part of the experience in years gone by.
I’m looking forward to hopefully providing some insight about the experience after the basho has wrapped up. If you’ve been to a tournament recently, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments! In the meantime, I’ll look forward to the daily updates here to keep the nerves settled ahead of an experience I can’t quite believe is happening after not being sure when it might happen again.