NHK Charity Sumo Event

Ikioi Sings

During Saturday, the sumo worlds, attention was once again focused on Tokyo’s Kokugikan for the NHK charity event. This is a yearly single day program that features elements of Jungyo, at least one rikishi interview, demonstration matches, dohyo-iri and lots of celebrity appearances with famous rikishi.

There was an interview with Tochinoshin, and the people attending were treated to photos of his wife and child in Georgia. As expected, Ikioi treated everyone to his truly talented singing voice, and even Mitakeumi had a song with idol band WaaSuta.

Reports are that the event was sold out, and parts of it will be shown in Japan on NHK-G next weekend. Sadly for us sumo fans outside of Japan, we have to resort to finding parts of it on YouTube.

Eating Sumo: Which Rikishi Has the Best Lunch?

kisenosatoboxlunch
Photo by the author, pixelation by iPhone 7

The last time I visited Ryokogu Kokugikan, the lunch selections were named according to the various sumo ranks – “Yokozuna Box,” “Ozeki Box,” etc. But today, I went to the hallowed stadium for day 2 of the Hatsu-basho, and found that the bento selections had been named after some of our nearest and dearest superstars.

So, for a bit of fun, let’s run through each of the selections, and then you can vote for the rikishi with the best bento at the bottom (EDITED: all of the poll embeds were breaking so just leave your selection in the comments). All of these bento boxes are the same price, so your choice strictly comes down to the contents, and the descriptions are more or less verbatim as they are presented in English on the menu. If you want to be cheeky, feel free to create a menu for another rikishi’s bento in the comments.

Takayasu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Mackerel in miso sauce
  • Chicken nanban
  • Lotus root seafood scissors
  • “Cut the cooked kelp”
  • Pickles marinated with soy sauce
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Cherry tomato

Goeido

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Grilled beef
  • Beef croquette
  • “The spitted cutlet of pork”
  • Potato salad
  • Cherry tomato
  • Japanese style omelette
  • Kinpira burdock root

Kisenosato

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Salty mix of chicken and Japanese leek
  • Mushroom marinade (Marinated mushroom?)
  • Boiled egg
  • “Food boiled and seasoned: Radish, Carrot, Konjac, Shiitake mushroom, Japanese butterbur, Taro”
  • Honey pickled plum
  • Meat ball

Kakuryu

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Sirloin pork cutlet
  • Beefsteak
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Pork sausage
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • Pickled vegetables

Hakuho

  • “Dried pickled sour Japanese plum on the rice” (Umeboshi)
  • Deep-fried chicken with Japanese leek sauce
  • Deep-friend Chinese style dumpling
  • Boiled egg
  • Boiled vegetables: Carrot, Potato, Pumpkin, Broccoli
  • Cherry tomato
  • Boiled mixed beans
  • “Stir-fry shrimp in chilli sauce”

 

Hatsu Dohyo Under Construction

Dohyo construction Jan 18

With the start of the much anticipated 2018 Hatsu basho just days away, the Kokugikan crew is busy constructing the dohyo that will be the focus for the January tournament. Re-built each time a tournament is about to start, the dohyo is a masterpiece of hand crafted earth, packed firm with simple wooden tools and laid out according to long standing tradition.

Early Saturday, Tokyo time, the dohyo will be consecrated in a solemn ceremony, and this event is typically open to the public. For sumo fans, it is a fascinating spectacle, and features attendance by many of the top men of the sport.

Aki Dohyo Complete – Consecration Saturday Morning

Dohyo-Ready

Construction of the Kokugikan’s dohyo for the Aki basho is complete, and is ready to be consecrated prior to Sunday’s first matches. In a solemn ceremony on Saturday, the dohyo will be blessed by shinto priests. Members of the public are welcome to attend the ceremony, which will be attended by the leading men of sumo and of the NSK. Immediately following the ceremony, the yusho portraits for both the Natsu and Nagoya basho (Hakuho) will be on display in front of the Kokugikan, prior to their being hung inside the stadium.

Aki Dohyo Construction Underway

Aki-Dohyo

With five days to go before the action starts in Tokyo, the build of the Aki dohyo is in full swing. According to reports by the NSK on twitter, the rough form of platform was completed by the end of the day Tuesday, with construction of the tawara progressing well.

Over the course of the next few days, the dohyo will take its ultimate shape, and be ready for battle by the consecration ceremony on Saturday.

UPDATE: Seems there is a “day of sumo” with none other than the legend Konishiki! It will be September 19th, and if any of our readers are or will be in Tokyo, I strongly encourage you to try to go. Konishiki is the reason I took notice of sumo to begin with, and seeing as it day seems to include a meal (like Chanko!), you can’t miss.

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 detect 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.

Natsu Day 5 Preview

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In Which I End My Occupation of the Kokugikan

The sad day has come when my sumo tickets for Natsu have run out, and I will no longer enjoy sumo in the raw organic form. As I remarked earlier, it is a completely different experience, at both exciting and relaxing at the same time.

When you watch a sporting event like sumo on TV, you see what the camera and the editors want to show you. When you are live at the venue, you can see whatever your eyes might show you. From a technical standpoint, the cameras likely win. From an aesthetics and enjoyment standpoint (for me anyhow) there is no comparison.

This is the final day of the first third of this basho, as the basho tends to move in thirds. The first third shows you who is too hurt to compete, and gets the San’yaku warmed up for the big matches starting this weekend. Given the imbalance in the banzuke (because of the Ozeki and Kisenosato), the lower San’yaku is once again the bright spot for this basho. The middle third starts Friday, and it tends to have a very different character.

Select Matches We Like

Onosho vs Myogiryu – Onosho has been fighting hard this first week, and I look for him to overwhelm Myogiryu, who has been keeping steady at 2-2.

Tokushoryu vs Kaisei – I am hoping for a day 4 repeat where Kaisei moves forward, keeping his center of gravity low. It may sound silly, but a renewed focus on fundamentals for him would probably reinvigorate his flagging career.

Kotoyuki vs Ura – After day 4’s crazy outcome, Kotoyuki gets a try at surviving the space-time distortion field. I still think the Shimpan had to find some way to call that match, inspite of Ura’s gymnastics.

Tochiozan vs Shodai – Tochiozan continues his hot streak from last basho, and he has seem to overcome his injuries from last year and is back on his sumo. It’s great to watch because he is strong and usually patient. Shodai looked good on day 4, but his tachiai is still his weakest point.

Tamawashi vs Yoshikaze – This could be the best match of the day. Yoshikaze is fighting at his best unseen for many tournaments, and it’s really wonderful to watch, especially for a Yoshikaze fan like myself. Tamawashi has been operating better than his 2-2 record would indicate, and it’s time for him to turn it around.

Endo vs Takayasu – I expect a repeat of the Mitakeumi vs Takayasu fight, except that it’s Endo and he’s kind of stumbly. If Takayasu can avoid an injury, he is looking good for at least 10 wins.

Chiyonokuni vs Goeido – Day 4 Goeido was looking better than he had this basho, and was actually able to put power to ground. Perhaps he has found a way to compete in spite of the problems with his ankle, which would be fantastic news.

Terunofuji vs Kotoshogiku – It’s fairly sad to watch Kotoshogiku fade away. Even the crowd knows hes on the path out, but he persists in fighting.

Mitakeumi vs Hakuho – Mitakeumi will put up a good fight, but I expect Hakuho to clear the dohyo with his usual flair. I am interested to see how long Mitakeumi can make it last.

Kisenosato vs Chiyoshoma – At what point does Kisenosato sit out? It’s against his very nature, but as we outlined the nature of his injury is quite serious, and unlikely to have been healed in the 8 weeks or so since he was injured. The sooner the better.