My Sumo Trip To Japan


Kokugikan Signs

Well Worth The Effort.

As many of the readers here at Tachiai know, I took the big step of taking a trip to Tokyo to watch sumo live at the Kokugikan. While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and found the trip quite rewarding, I thought I would share some of the details of the trip to help anyone considering doing the same.

Flying To Japan – JAL 065

Although I have a large number of miles and some decent status on American Airlines, I chose to fly to Tokyo on JAL. There were a number of reasons why. Firstly, I was traveling over with a long term friend who lives in San Diego. The JAL flight left from there, and was on a Boeing 787, a composite body aircraft that operates at higher cabin pressure than the 777 alternative. This translated into less jet lag, and a more comfortable trip all around. It should also be noted that the JAL economy class seats are really very nice. Wider and with more space between them than any of the US carriers provide.

As you might expect, the Japanese flight crew were the acme of customer service, attention and all around professionals. The entire trip was a notch or two above my typical international flight on American. The food was very good, too.

JAL Meal

Living In Japan – Air BnB

Hotels in Japan cost a fortune. Space is at a premium, and accommodations for westerners, who are usually looking for more space, tend to run $300 / night more more. My friend decided to try Air BnB, and scored what in my opinion was a major coup. We rented an entire house in Sumida, just 3 blocks from the Kokugikan for about half of what we would pay for a hotel. But let’s be clear. This house was small, no, this house was tiny.

The Rabbit Hutch - Sumida
The House In Sumida

The footprint was about 12′ x 12′. When we ended up meeting the neighbors, they were surprised that two full sized Americans were living in that house. One of them said, “My house is small, but that house is too small!”. One of them referred to it as the “Rabbit Hutch”.

We found the house to be a tiny delight. Yeah, there were several adjustments we had to make to the very limited space, but it was RIGHT THERE. Sleeping was on tatami mats, and for Americans used to sleeping on beds, it took a couple of days before one could feel comfortable sleeping that way. But once used to it, I will admit my back never felt better.

Due to the preponderance of convincence stores and everything else in this neighborhood, we wanted for nothing. In fact, we were next door to a really fantastic smelling curry shop, that we kept not being able to catch open and serving food. Until the last couple of days, and then it was “Jackpot!”.

Watching Sumo – Kokugikan

Being 3 blocks away from the center of the sumo universe has many advantages. Firstly, no train rides fighting the crowds to or from the stadium. Secondly, you see rikishi going about their daily lives everywhere. Yes. there is the language barrier, but the Japanese public are kind, friendly people who never fail to go out of their way to help you or try to make you feel welcome in their country.

Center of the Sumo World

The staff at the Kokugikan include guides who speak a variety of different languages, and they will not only help you find your seat, but can help you figure out where everything is. If you catch them in the morning before it gets busy, they may even take you around and show you the stadium if you want.

I purchased my tickets through buysumotickets.com. They were not cheap, but they did an excellent job, and we had some fantastic seat. One day we were sitting on the 2nd floor, in the “chair” seats, but I was 6 seats away from the Imperial box. The view was frankly unparalleled. But if you go for the early matches, you will find the Kokugikan largely empty until Juryo. So feel free to go downstairs and check out the view of the zabuton. But do take your shoes off. In fact, you may want to consider taking slip on / off shoes with you to Japan, as you will be out of your shoes and into house sandals or slippers all the time.

Endo Cutout

There were an impressive amount of non-Japanese folks at the basho. It gave me a renewed appreciation of the potential for Sumo to be a global sport. The other thing that surprised me is that large blocks of tickets seem to go daily to groups. One day it seems to have been the little old ladies club, the next day it was the Salaryman’s Drinking Union or something like that. Around the start of Makuuchi, big groups (200+) would stream into the Kokugikan and all sit together in the same section. The other group we could always count on were the high school groups. It seemed each day 3-6 groups of highschoolers would take up several sections.

The other thing of note. Between 1:30 and 2:30, the sekitori show up at the Kokugikan. Usually this is a public affair, and they walk right down the side alley between the train station and the stadium, with their retainers in tow.

Takayasu Arrives
Takayasu Arrives

Also, as they arrive, they stop by both he guard booth, where they check in, and this tent. At the tent, the drop off their mobile phone, which is placed in a ziplock baggie, and placed in a metal box. I am going to guess this is a rule that was put in place after the betting scandals from a few years ago.

I happened to be very lucky, and I encountered Wakaichiro in the Kokugikan on day 2 after his match. In person he is the nicest fellow you could ever meet, and I am quite delighted he took the time to say hello to one of his fans and talk for a few minutes. I am sure the he had many chores waiting for him back at the stable.

Wakaichiro
Wakaichiro – Talking To A Fan

Living In Japan – Food

You can eat yourself to death in Japan. There is so much good food everywhere that you can’t really go wrong. The biggest challenge once again is the language barrier. I used two applications to help me augment my somewhat shaky Japanese skills:

VoiceTra – this is a voice to voice translator. Say something in English into it, it spits out a guess of what you said in Japanese. It also shows you a round trip transaction – it passes the Japanese back re-translated to English. This helps you figure out if it guessed wrong on what you meant. It also shows you the phrase it spoke in Japanese in Kana, which is even more useful. When I got stuck, I pulled this thing out and it really helped.

Yomiwa This is your Kanji cracker. You can take a picture of something in Kanji (say a menu) and use Yomiwa to tell you what it says. You can use a live feed from your camera, or snap a still and direct the text a few glyphs at a time. Using this tool, I was able to figure out the menus of a few of local eateries. Very helpful

Takoyaki and Beer
Takoyaki and Guinness!

Some places to eat, you get a menu. Some places you have a vending kiosk that allows you to select your food and some options. You put in your money and it spits out a printed receipt that you give to the cook and they prepare you food. Actually very fast, easy and works well if you are not quite up to stumbling through some spoke Japanese to order.

Ordering Kiosk
I recommend #4!

Oh, and that curry place next to the tiny house? We finally caught them open. It’s an older couple who seem to only serve the lunch crowd. Their little place can seat no more than 15 at a time. We were treated to Katsu Curry of a most remarkable flavor that it’s worthless to try and describe it. It was well worth the effort to catch them open

Katsu Curry

In summary, the entire Tokyo trip was somewhat out of the ordinary, even for folks who want to go see sumo. But I will confess that my appreciation for the sport and it’s place in the culture has been greatly expanded by my visit. I encourage our readers here at Tachiai to consider doing the same, as it is a worthy aspiration.

 

Female Sumo


どすこい、京の相撲ガール 全国初の創部から丸2年

Because of today’s headline, I will unveil the Tachiai Hiragana Guide. One could think of hiragana as the Japanese alphabet, except that it’s not an alphabet. It’s easier than an alphabet because it’s purely phonetic. No letters that sounds like other letters and nothing changes when combined with others. No diphthongs.
These are the only sounds in the Japanese syllabary. Everything comes from these sounds. There are a few tricks which I will point out but hiragana is covered in Japanese 101 and it should just take a week. Take two columns per day and you’re golden. I’ll talk briefly about the “dots” below. They change the pronunciation to the appropriate hard sound: so k becomes g, s becomes z, t becomes d, and h becomes b. H becomes P if there’s a little circle like degrees (°).

 

どすこい、

Today’s article starts with sumo related hiragana. Dosukoi is a sumo word and is also the name of the French blog run by Yohann. It’s one of those things that doesn’t have a translation; it’s just a sumo-related exclamation. I wanted to draw particular attention to this article because it shines a light on a topic close to me: sumo and women. We also see “dots,” kind of look like double-quotation marks, that changes TO into DO.
April is when the new school year starts in Japan. For these students in Kyoto, they’re starting another year as the female sumo club at their high school in Kyoto.
My daughter loves sumo. She’s four, wrestles her older brother (8), and she is brilliant. She’s super aggressive so sometimes I feel sorry for my son because he has to hold back since he’s about 1.5 times her size. So, naturally, I’d love to encourage her. Right now, the only real option around here will be judo, if I can find a good dojo around here. Another option is MMA and getting her into an octagon…but no. I’m not going to let either of my kids go that route. If they want to try physical sports, fine, but I don’t want them developing CTE or eating tons of creative like a former roommate of mine.

京の相撲ガール

Anyway, back to the article. The first kanji is the first character of Kyoto and you should quickly recognize “sumo.” The next little bit will introduce us to katakana which is an alternative writing system for the same sounds that you get in hiragana. It’s just that if you see something written in katakana, it usually means it’s a foreign loan word. In this case, we’ve got ga-ru (ガール) or Japanese pronunciation of “gal.” Again, we see “dots” next to the katakana KA that turns it into GA.
The katakana KA looks like the hiragana KA but unfortunately not all of the katakana are so similar to their hiragana counterparts, as we see with RU (ル) which bears little resemblance to the hiragana version (る). Don’t try to learn both at the same time. Get hiragana down cold, then move on to katakana. I’m a little surprised that they would use the term ga-ru in the headline. It’s quite informal.

全国初の創部から丸2年

Nationwide, this is the first division of its kind and they are starting their third year of the program. The first two kanji, zenkoku (全国), means nationwide. You should recognize the third kanji by now from several of our lessons, hatsu, “begin/start”. The circle looking thing afterward is the hiragana “no.” You also saw it in the first part: 京の. I’m not going to get into the meaning of these particles much, yet, I really just want people to recognize the hiragana first. Next is the kanji for when they established the club. Don’t worry about this kanji: (創). But, remember this kanji: (部). It’s pronounced BU and it’s used in this case as club but it can also be used in an office setting as a division or section. It’s pretty common. In this case, SOBU refers to the group that started this club. (丸) Maru means circle, but when used with a time frame like two years, ni nen, 丸2年 means two complete years. The two years were able to go through the entire cycle. Hiragana (から) “kara” means from, so “from the club’s establishment, two complete years.”

Odaiba Basho 8/23-8/24


As we’ve covered in recent articles, it’s pretty hard to get tickets to a sumo tournament. This has been made even tougher, obviously, with the promotion of Kisenosato and the rise of several native Japanese wrestlers after a long period of flagging interest within Japan itself. This will have ticket prices for the six annual hon-basho (main tournaments) at very high prices, available mostly through middlemen. So, those of us sumo fans who cannot shell out much for a tournament, there is hope in the form of the promotional tours (Jungyo).

Odaiba Tournament Promotion

お台場で初の巡業を8月開催「大相撲ODAIBA場所」

One such tour was just announced. As the headline reads, August will see the first Odaiba Basho! Odaiba is a big development built from re-claimed land in Tokyo bay that contains a large convention center, mall and restaurants and is scheduled to host several events during the 2020 Olymipic games. There’s a light rail line, the Yorikamome, that takes people out there and it’s accessible by car via Rainbow Bridge. I’ve watched summer fireworks over Rainbow Bridge which is pretty spectacular. Those fireworks are a major reason to brave the heat and go to Japan in the summer. I will keep a lookout for scheduling to find out when those will be this summer.

8月

August: Just to reinforce our temporal lesson from a few days ago, this means August but if you add (間) and make it 8月間, then it means something lasted 8 months or it took 8 months to do something.

初の巡業…開催

“First Tour…will be held”: So much of this headline is at a basic level of sumo Japanese. You should recognize “hatsu” from “hatsubasho,” the first tournament of each year held in January. You should also recognize Jungyo. The only real new vocabulary in this entire headline is “kaisai” (開催). Many headlines don’t put the full form of the verb, especially verbs like “suru.” But here we would imply the passive form of the verb, “kaisai sareru,” or will be held.

「大相撲ODAIBA場所」

“ODAIBA Sumo Basho”: Often, Odaiba is written out like this in the roman alphabet because it’s a tourist center. They want tourists to go there, especially for the many conventions. The kanji was what started off the headline (お台場). With the hiragana de, we get “At Odaiba.”

General tickets go on sale June 4. The specific venue for the sumo tournament is supposed to hold 4500 people. There’s mention of a priority lottery on April 23, so I will research for more details.

Asanoyama: The Pride of Toyama Prefecture


Takasago beya, despite its legacy of big named stars, has fallen on hard times. To start 2017, the stable which produced Asashoryu and the American ozeki Konishiki had no active sekitori. According to the article, this was the first time since the 11th year of the Meiji era (1868) that Takasago beya did not have an active sekitori. Asanoyama’s promotion for the March tournament brought the stable back into the elite divisions. He will climb quickly into makuuchi on the back of his 10-5 record, just missing out on the Juryo yusho, losing a three-way playoff which included Osunaarashi and yusho-winner, Toyohibiki.
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Takayasu The Crowd Favorite at Spring Jungyo


Bruce and Tom’s point is well taken. There’s a lot more news out there beyond Kisenosato. And spectators of the Spring Jungyo will be happy to know that there’s still plenty of reasons to go out and watch. So, I found an article via @nifty news that covers the Jungyo activities. The headline is a good one for us because it has so many shikona, 5 to be exact: Hakuho, Kisenosato, Goeido, Terunofuji, and Takayasu. My son is in elementary school and each week they get a list of “sight words.” So, I’m going to subject you all to the same standard and start with sanyaku shikona. You need to be able to recognize these names by sight. It will help you root out “Kisenosato-fever” headlines in favor of the other 10 or so guys in sanyaku.
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The Kisenosato Effect


It’s been a few days since our last scan of Japanese sumo articles. Today, we turn again to Mainichi since the Nikkei seems quite satisfied to take a break in coverage during the interbasho timeframe. I’m hesitant to use Yahoo! and other aggregators but will expand my crawl in the coming days. I bring this up because today’s headline is a bit…premature, so I think they’re kind of reaching for content. It would be nice if they covered the Jungyo.

稀勢の里効果に期待も…増えない高校生力士

Today’s headline is about the “Kisenosato effect,” an expectation for an increase in high schoolers turning toward sumo, which has apparently not materialized. Come on, Chris. It’s been two basho. There are a lot of trend driven Japanese but no one in their right mind would drop out of cram school, scrap plans for university and quash their dreams of becoming salarymen by suddenly devouring chanko and choosing the grueling life of a rikishi based purely on Kisenosato’s win, no matter how many times articles refer to his gekiteki (“dramatic” via lesson 1) championship.
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Natsu Basho Sold Out in 90 Minutes


Today’s headline comes again from Mainichi:

前売り券、1時間半で完売
“Pre sale tickets have sold out (for the May tournament) in an hour and a half.”

We’ve got a very short headline today that will introduce several important kanji. Again, I’ll break things but you will need to know ALL of this kanji. The whole thing is beginner level.
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