Today was an exciting day, we went to a sumo wrestling tournament! We woke up quite early to catch a quick train to the wrestlers. Once at the “stadium” area, everyone had to remove their shoes and wear slippers to keep the floor clean. We found our seats then until 3pm, we watched sumo wrestlers fight, and let me tell you, it was quite hilarious seeing humongous grown men fight in their underwear. We took some pictures with them then headed out to the Gion neighborhood to eat dinner even though it was 6:30pm, but since we hadn’t eaten lunch, we were already hungry. We walked around the area and it was beautiful, everything was so “Japanese”, for example, women were wearing kimonos and the neighborhood was decorated in a Japanese fashion. After all, we ate dinner in a tiny restaurant with only two tables and counter where they had a large frying pan where they would cook your food in front of you. That was definitely a great experience to all of us. After dinner Jules, Florence and I headed home and mom and dad continued exploring around the area and nearby bars.
Wake up not as early as we wanted (forgot to put alarm clock).
So we go directly to the one of the very “Japanese” experiences of our trip: a sumo competition. It’s 25 km from Tokyo (at mid distance to Osaka in fact); the event takes place in Hirakata City, in the Sogo Gymnasium. We take the train (the railway passes very close to the habitations), and then the taxi. We arrive around 11:30am. The event takes place from 8am to 3pm. I booked through sumotickets.com. It was quite difficult since it’s not the season of the main tournaments. The people from sumotickets.com sent me in August the programme of the following months and I tried to find an event that matches the places and dates of our trip. This one was the only convenient one. They call the place an ‘arena’ but it’s basically a ring in a sports hall. It’s full. Most of the people are sitting on the floor (apparently the best places) while our seats are in the stands; a bit far away from the ring but with a good view. They start with the second-tier league. The “fights” are preceded by a ceremonial, which includes, among others, (chanted) announcement by a presenter, throwing salt on the ring, stretching one leg while on the other leg… The referee also wears traditional costume.
A few words on sumo: it’s Japan’s national sport. It originated in ancient times as a performance to entertain the Shinto deities. Many rituals with religious background, such as the symbolic purification of the ring with salt, are still followed today. The rules are simple: the wrestler who first exits the ring or touches the ground with any part of his body besides the soles of his feet loses. Matches take place on an elevated ring, which is made of clay and covered in a layer of sand. Once they finally do begin, it is very rare for sumo bouts to last longer than a few seconds (but in rare cases can take a minute or more). There are no weight restrictions or classes in sumo, meaning that wrestlers can easily find themselves matched off against someone many times their size. As a result, weight gain is an essential part of sumo training.
We were afraid to be bored quickly but on the contrary it is quite enthralling, each fight being different from the other ones. The action is very fast-paced and exciting. We eventually understand Jacques Chirac… There are a lot of movements in the public. Most people eat their bento boxes while watching the fights. I buy some kind of shrimps-stuffed balls; not great. For the first league, sponsors are announced at the beginning of the fights and the winner is handed cash at the end of the fight. We stay until the final (we could feel the excitement rising). We’ve stayed 3 hours and a half watching a sumo competition! After the competition, the wrestlers go back directly to their training stables, in coaches, and they are waived at by people who follow their departure. They are celebrities in Japan.
We go back by bus to the train station. Back in Kyoto, we go to Gion, the famous entertainment and geisha quarter of Kyoto. Nice evening stroll around the atmospheric streets lined with 17th-century traditional restaurants and teahouses lit up with lanterns. We eat in a small teppanyaki restaurant at 6pm (we didn’t really have lunch). Meat is good.
Kids go back home in bus, while we continue a bit, towards Sannen-zaka area, one of Kyoto’s loveliest restored neighbourhoods. Everything is closed but it seems nice. The center of Gion is full of atmosphere, although touristy. There are plenty of small restaurants, all behind curtains so we can’t see anything. Very quiet. We go back to Shimbashi to have a drink. After trying more than 10 bars (each one more depressing than the other), we end up in a Spanish bar where we have a drink (and a plate of ham).
We come back home around 10pm. I call my parents. We don’t take enough time to keep contact with our family and friends.
While preparing the rest of the stay in Kyoto, I read, by chance, that the Jidai Matsuri (one of the main festivals of the year) is canceled due to a typhoon approaching (some states even anticipated the elections that are taking place on Sunday).