A Day Out at the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium

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I was fortunate enough to take in Day 2 of the Nagoya basho in person, so here’s a firsthand account of the day, the venue and the atmosphere.

Booking Tickets

At Bruce’s recommendation, I reached out to BuySumoTickets.com a couple months in advance to try and get tickets, and they delivered! I knew I would have time in Nagoya to go to either Day 1 or Day 2 (or both), and knowing how difficult it would be to get tickets owing to Nagoya being a smaller venue and the ever-rising popularity of the sport, this ended up being a safer option than booking my own tickets through NSK like I did for Hatsu before Tagonoura-beya changed the face of the banzuke with a pair of promotions.

We ended up getting Chair “A” seats. In the Kokugikan this will put you at the front of the second tier, but in the smaller venue this puts you at the very back of the arena. I also threw a pair of J-League 2 tickets into the bargain for Nagoya Grampus. The tickets arrived to California well in advance of my flight to Japan (which was 11 days before Day 2 of the basho), and the site was a pleasure to work with.

Arriving at the Gymnasium

Coming from near Nagoya station, we took the subway to Shiyakusho/City Hall station on the Meijo line. Exiting the station, you end up just on the edge of Meijo Park, which houses both the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium as well as Nagoya Castle. The park is nice and leafy and green, and provides a nice counterpoint to the majesty of the Kokugikan. We arrived at around noon, and the atmosphere outside was mostly subdued, with a handful of lower division rikishi walking around and the punters being generally easygoing and happy.

Entering the venue is quite cramped and I’m glad we arrived “early” (it would have been earlier if Wakaichiro had been competing!), as the hallway can only fit about 3-4 people across at a time which is quite a difference from the great hall that welcomes you to the Kokugikan! Already a handful of fans were queueing up for the arrival of the more vaunted rikishi, so we decided to make a lap around the arena and check out the merch and food options before heading to our seats.

Speaking of entering the venue, here’s a time-lapse of the makuuchi (west) rikishi getting started (sorry for the shaky camera – I had to hold it a LONG time!):

Merch, Food & Souvenirs

Keeping with the theme, both the diversity as well as the quantity of the merch and food offerings are downsized at Nagoya, however the dispersal and consistency of merch to be found is very impressive. You are just never far from a pretty good collection of sumo merch regardless of where you are in the venue. As it was a hot day, ice cold beer, water and ice cream were plentiful and there were plenty of roving vendors supplying ice cream throughout the day as well. There was a decent bento selection but we opted to grab some edamame and dango before heading to our seats. I’d been hopeful to get a cup of chankonabe, but there was quite a long queue and the signs around the venue made clear that today’s stew would be limited to 400 cups.

As the hallways were extremely narrow, it made purchasing merch (and boy, did I ever) a challenging proposition. When ordering multiple items, the vendors often needed to go around the shop to work out what each item cost before totalling them all up. It’s not quite a smooth of an operation as in Tokyo but everyone was extremely enthusiastic and thankful for the business.

And judging by what was on display, it was clear that shin-Ozeki Takayasu was the popular man – not only gracing most of the main magazines but also quite prominently across most of the featured food items and other souvenirs. There is just enormous love for Takayasu right now and most of the media coverage we saw leading up to the day centered squarely around him. Beyond that, as expected, Kisenosato and Hakuho were the other two big sellers.

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Yum!

Seats

Our seats were near the back of the arena on the west side, but the sight lines are outstanding in the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium. There literally is not a bad seat there, and at the back the slope is just steep enough that you don’t need to worry about seeing over the row in front of you – there’s always a clear sight of the entire dohyo.

When we visited the Toyota Stadium a few days earlier to take in the Grampus match, we were able to book a “pairs seat,” which is a fantastic innovation in that it’s two seats with direct aisle access that has a mounted table in front (if you live in a city in America that has an Alamo Drafthouse movie theatre, it’s similar to this). This was unbelievably handy and it was cool to see that the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium also has these type of seats installed – I would highly recommend trying to book those seats if you are able. I will definitely try to do so on my next visit.

It was also interesting that both the tickets that I booked directly from the sumo association as well as the tickets I booked through BuySumoTickets put me amongst a large group of foreigners. It was cool to be able to explain what was going on to others and hopefully help them get more excited about the sport, but I will say that in future it would be good to be able to participate in more of the atmosphere by being surrounded by folks who know the sport. I have a feeling that may come simply by managing to get better/more expensive tickets. On the whole however, the tourist crowd was better in Nagoya as they were at least more interested in the matches – when I was in Tokyo in January there were several disinterested tour groups whose presence probably prevented a few genuine sumo fans from getting into the venue.

Finally, the one oft-discussed element of Nagoya has been the weather. While the hallways were very swampy and humid owing to doors being open to the outside, our seats themselves were very cool and comfortable. It rained earlier in the day which may have contributed to this, but since we weren’t anywhere near the hot lights down below, and the venue does have a degree of air conditioning, it was very nice. It only started getting warmer once the venue started to fill up, and the seats are VERY close together (by American standards). So I was only a little upset that I didn’t need to use my new Ura fan!

Matches

Bruce has largely covered this so I won’t go into too much detail, but it is true that the live experience is very different from both the extended coverage and the NHK highlights, both in terms of the cadence of the day as well as the angle you experience the match and the crowd.

We got to see huge wins for Takayasu, Tamawashi and Ura, and the crowd really exploded at each of those owing to the nature of each victory. In fact, the Australians behind us spilled their beer from celebrating when Ura won! Kisenosato seemed extremely defensive, and people seemed more relieved than anything at his win. Fans were really behind the typically popular rikishi – though one woman a couple rows down tended to scream out the name of whoever the crowd favorite was up against! The day of course ended with the Shodai kinboshi and as I’ve now been fortunate to experience that final match kinboshi on 2 occasions, the sight of seat cushions flying everywhere is just one of the coolest ways to end the day.

The Hakuho/Tochinoshin match was notable because you could really hear and feel the battle, and also because getting to sit and witness someone like Hakuho who is the very best at what they do is always special no matter what it is that they do. In a few years we will be talking about The Great Hakuho in the past tense, and being there for even just a piece of those 1,038 wins feels significant. And also, the chance to see this, perhaps one last time: