Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Ryan and I went to Sumo with our friends Michael and Momoe. What an experience! I really didn't think I would enjoy it, but I was enthralled. All the action goes down on the little mound of dirt down in the middle, underneath the strangely hovering roof. This low mag picture is not good but you can get the sense of where we were sitting and how big the stadium is. This is early on in the day, so many of the box seats are still empty. Although ours were regular, movie-style seats, the ones down on the main floor were cushions on tatami mats.

Here two wrestlers (one from the East team and one from the West team) are squaring off. They go through a whole host of poses and ceremonial flair before the wrestling actually begins. Once it starts, the goal is to somehow get the other guy to fall on the ground (first) or step outside of the circle.

Occasionally something very exciting would happen: two wrestlers would both fall out at the same time and roll down the hill into the cameramen. If it was unclear who actually fell first, all of the judges (below in black jackets) would confer.

The matches are arranged so that the newbies or lower ranked fighters go earlier in the day. At about 4 pm, they transition into the top ranked fighters, who will fight in increasing order of rank, with the top two ranked fighters (right now there are two of the highest possible rank, yokozuna) going last. Before they start their matches, all of the top wrestlers first parade through the stadium and onto the ring in their formal outfits.

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Here are two wrestlers doing the classic leg stomp, which is supposed to symbolize that they are stomping out evil spirits. Before the match each fighter also throws salt onto the floor of the ring, which I think also is supposed to have some cleansing symbolism. In this picture, the fellas holding the banners represent companies who have given donations. Part of the money goes into an envelope and the winner of this match will win a small pile of envelopes at the end. As the matches get more heated and the rankings higher, the piles get larger and larger.

Food stuffs are available at the stadium. Here Ryan enjoys a Bento box lunch. That is a sour plum in the middle of his rice. It is supposed to resemble the Japanese flag.

Below is the final match of the day. The guy with his arms out is one of the two top ranked fighters, Asashyoryu. He and the other yokozuna, Hakuho, are both Mongolian. The day after we were there- the last of the tournament- they faced each other. Hakuho won the bout resulting in a tied (14-1) record for both fighters. So, a run-off immediately followed with Asashyoryu winning and taking the tournament.

Here is a link to the final match of the last day - a great fight. Anytime a yokozuna is beat (and one of the two is here) people throw their cushions at the ring.

For how great Asashyoryu is at putting on a show and posturing, see the pre-face-off around 4:10-4:40 here.

The Dohyo-iri 'dance' that yokozuna do before the top tier of fighters start, here.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This week I got an email from my former boss/mentor at the U.S. Geological Survey saying that he was on his way to Tokyo for a few days. Steve was planning to stay a few days before he headed further east to do some teaching. He has been to Tokyo so many times that he knows his way around far better than I do. He was staying at his usual hotel and, the first night, he invited me along to his favorite bar/restaurant Sumire, which I guess he frequents every time he is in town. As soon as he stuck his head in, the owner and many of the customers all welcomed him by name and the owner pulled down the bottle with his name on it that she had been storing. Just out of coincidence, another one of the regulars Ed (or Edo-san as they called him) had 3 visiting astronomers in town. Us plus them plus one of the locals meant that 7 out of the 10 chairs in the restaurant were filled with gaijin. This is very unusual indeed for this tiny, family-owned restaurant located off a narrow alley, so the owner and even some of the other patrons started snapping some photos.
During the weekend, Ryan and I went with Steve to the Edo-Tokyo Museum housed in this huge building (apparently it was designed to be the same height as the old Edo Castle).
In addition to the special exhibit on wood block prints, which were fascinating, the permanent collection of the Edo museum consisted of a bunch of artifacts and recreations from the Edo period of Japanese history. This is the post-samurai era during which life changed from small farm-based villages to the city (named Edo) built within the walls of a castle. Edo later became known as Tokyo.

So the museum shows the different walks of life that dwelled within the castle-city, including merchant stores and life-sized mockups of craftsmen making their wares. Lots of tiny models of city floor plans complete with binoculars so that you can really get all the details. The homes even had tatami mats the size of sticks of gum.
Speaking of tatami mats, one of the exhibits gave you the opportunity to take your shoes off and walk through a traditional Japanese style room. Funny, it looks extremely similar to another room I know (our bedroom).