Hatsu Dohyo Matsuri

During the morning hours of Saturday, sumo officials, athletes and sumo fans gathered in the Ryogoku Kokugikan to observe the consecration of the clay fighting platform – the dohyo – for the Hatsu Basho. The proceedings took under an hour, and featured a number of rituals to bless the participants, the venue and to enshrine divine energy into the dohyo itself.

With the ritual complete, it’s basho time! Less than 24 hours from now, we will have our first matches. Frankly, I can’t wait.

I have wanted for years to observe this sumo ritual, and it was fantastic to see first hand. For those of you interested, some additional images from the event below.

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Natsu Basho 2019 Dohyo Matsuri

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri

Today, I headed back to Ryogoku to witness the dohyo matsuri – the ceremony in which the dohyo is consecrated ahead of the new basho. As Bruce related, the dohyo is broken down and rebuilt for each tournament. The start of the tournament begins with this ceremony, which in a way officially declares the sacred ring open for the business of sumo.

The event was set to start at 9.50am, so I arrived in Ryogoku around 9.30. Apparently the event has become better attended in recent years, as the portraits for the two most recent yusho winners are also unveiled, but I did not expect to see a line wrapped literally around the block from Kokugikan:

Ryogoku Kokugikan - Crowd outside Dohyo Matsuri

In all, I would say around 2,000 people attended the ceremony, which was free for the general public. The weather was fantastic and warm, and the crowd was generally in a very good mood. Seats inside the venue were available on a first come first serve basis.

For someone like me who doesn’t typically have access to the lower bowl of Kokugikan to sit in box seats during a basho, it was a great opportunity to get to see the new dohyo up-close. As fans piled in behind the san’yaku rikishi who were in attendance, I did an end run around the perimeter of the venue so that I could land a seat about 5 boxes back from the dohyo and get closer to the action.

A yobidashi called the event to order at 9.58pm, and the total time of the event was about 25 minutes. Three gyoji entered the room to announce and administer the ceremony, during which a number of rituals were observed. The gyoji all wore enormous white (linen?) gowns over the top of the usual dress.

About 30 elders from the NSK were in attendance on the side of the dohyo (10 per side), with the san’yaku rikishi minus the injured Hakuho behind one set of elders. I’m not sure exactly who gets to attend but from the faces I was able to scan, it seemed to be a strong overlap with the shimpan department (if anyone knows if is or is not true, feel free to correct me in the comments).

San'yaku Rikishi at Dohyo Matsuri

I am not yet an expert in these rituals, but a branch was waved from the dohyo on all three sides in which the elders were sitting, a ceremonial cup was poured for each of the elders, and stakes were placed in all four corners of the dohyo. A scary moment did occur when the chief gyoji missed his chair entirely when sitting back down, and tumbled to the ground. He was helped back up by an attending yobidashi.

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri

Taiko drummers finished the ceremony by parading a lap around the outside of the dohyo. I saw them enter the room, but was still startled by the sound, which reverberated around the mostly empty Kokugikan.

Natsu basho Dohyo Matsuri - Taiko drums

The ceremony ended with the declaration that the dohyo matsuri had been completed and the basho could begin.

As I – as well as other fans – scampered forward from the box seats to attempt to get a photo of the newly consecrated dohyo, men with bullhorns shouted to the audience that the event was over and to leave the arena.Natsu basho consecrated dohyo

The work of setting up for the basho to begin on Sunday was already underway, and team members were milling to and fro around the venue to get things ready for showtime. While the torikumi for Day 1 had already been announced, it was not yet listed on the scoreboard in the venue, for example.

As I walked back outside, I noticed newly minted Komusubi Aoiyama doing an interview with local media:

Aoiyama interview at Dohyo Matsuri

We can presume he will be working hard this basho to do his style of sumo. Later, I was also passed by a quick moving Sekiwake Tochinoshin, who also had a reporter in tow:

Tochinoshin outside Dohyo Matsuri

He really is an enormous man.

Exiting the arena, I discovered the answer to one of our burning questions before every basho: which stable would be providing the chankonabe which is served every day at the tournament? The answer is as old as a thousand generations: a beaming Chiyomaru told us that this tournament’s “Variety Chanko” comes from the legendary Kokonoe-beya.

Kokonoe beya Variety Chanko featuring Chiyomaru

I made it back to the front of the arena just in time to see a group of workers taking down the massive yusho portraits which had been presented to Tamawashi (for winning the Hatsu basho) and Miyagino oyakata (for Hakuho winning the Haru basho). Unfortunately owing to the size of the crowd I wasn’t able to witness their actual presentation, but it was cool to be able to marvel at the portraits which we only see hanging from the rafters in Kokugikan (or in a few cases, in the nearby Ryogoku JR train station).

Yusho portraits at Dohyo Matsuri

And with that, the basho is underway. We have plenty of treats lined up at Tachiai this month – let’s get into the coverage!