What can be beautiful or interesting about two strapping men in G-strings with ample busts and funny hairstyle wrestling in a sandpit? What seems an unreasonable game played by overgrown children for Europeans is sacred for the Eastern culture, for which nothing compares to sumo.
Japanese legends trace the beginnings of sumo fights to the early 8th century BC. This is how gods were then worshipped and how people asked for abundant crops and eternal happiness. The character of fights has changed since then. They used to be often fights to the death but with the passing of time changed into circus games still supposed to entertain the crowd but at the same time keeping the heroes alive.
It is hard to overlook the Bodymaker Colosseum in Osaka, where the biggest sumo competition in Japan takes place. Surrounded by colourful pennants from all sides, the arena differs greatly from the traditional grey, Japanese, concrete houses located in its vicinity. The Grand Sumo Tournament visits six Japanese cities within several months. The competition lasts for a fortnight, and each tournament is viewed by a completely full auditorium from morning till night. It is no use looking for information about the beginning and end of fights on the tickets. The most faithful fans (and there are quite a few of them!) come just after 8 in the morning. Others fill up the arena with the appearance of the increasingly heavier and award-winning wrestlers in the ring.
There are no limousines approaching sumo halls. Instead, rikishi, as sumo wrestlers are called here, can be seen on the underground in traditional sandals and specific clothes. They leave the city trains and walk jauntily to the arena. They move across the streets so gracefully, they are so light on their feet – all of this makes a tremendous impression on me. I used to think that setting such a heavy lump in motion and moving it at such a high speed is impossible.
Nobody forbids people to approach the competitors, who spend the time before their fight talking to their fans. There are no turnstiles, entanglements or security guards. Nobody is surprised that ladies of advanced age hug very young men, and I don’t mean the age difference between them but the possible injury they can suffer during the meeting with a Japanese hero weighing more than 150 kilograms. Fortunately, they can be delicate. They keep smiling, going through the gates of the hall and carrying gifts they have just received from their fans. It’s clear that both parties enjoy these meetings and that what happens before the fights is equally important as the tournament itself.
The competition begins. I find the first two hours completely incomprehensible. Instead of large wrestlers, the ring built from sand and clay located in the centre of the hall fills with significantly smaller men. But the tension is building up with time. There are more and more people entering the hall, while I keep trying to sort the rules of the game out in my mind, though I didn’t have the slightest idea of all that still in the morning. It seems that the lower the rank of the competitors, the longer the ritual of raising legs, thumping, clapping and throwing something white. There is less thumping and the fight begins sooner when larger men enter the dohyō. Weight is increasing and screams of both young and older fans sitting right behind me are getting louder. The noise is already deafening. The tension has reached its height. I have never seen such cheers. Nowhere.
Although wrestling itself lasts usually only several seconds, the ritual before each fight can take minutes. In order to purify the arena, every competitor entering the ring scatters salt over it and then shifts the weight of his body from one leg to the other in a characteristic manner. It looks funny for a layperson, but this moment is important – this is when the wrestlers deter evil spirits. Legs – they’re the beginning. They are soon joined by arms, which move down and up and finally fall on the ground with a thud pulling the whole fighter behind.
When the competitor is ready, he performs chiri-chozu and crouches and waits for the referee’s signal. It seems to me that the referee is doing his job while the main heroes are doing theirs, and that they don’t pay any attention to each other at all. Throwing salt, crouching and getting up can be repeated as long as the fighters are not totally ready. After several hours of observations, I figure out that in order to grasp the moment the fight begins, I should look neither at the referee nor at the competitors. I should pay attention to a man with a brush regularly cleaning the ring, under which, according to the tradition, they allegedly make offerings of animals. Quitting the cleaning procedure in the ring, where the focused competitors prepare for the fight, is when I should raise my camera. I wouldn’t like to be ignoramus, but I find a sport in which a man with a brush decides on the beginning of a fight a strange one indeed. But the fact that after one day among the audience I have become a true fan of the discipline is even stranger.
Before I saw the fights, I had been comparing this sport to wrestling with posed falls and feigned hits. I couldn’t be more wrong. I could see drops of blood in the ring and scratches and bruises on the competitors’ faces. The sight of almost 200-kilogram giants massaging their backs after marvellous wrestling made me realize that there are few sports so deeply rooted in tradition left. The performance given by Japanese gladiators is worth seeing. It is also worth spending here a couple of hours to get to know its rules and see the profound respect Japanese sumo fighters command. Although today the best competitors are not Japanese at all because they come from Mongolia, all of them are held in high regard regardless of their origin.', '
Co pięknego lub interesującego może być w tym, że dwóch potężnych mężczyzn w stringach z wydatnym biustem i śmiesznym uczesaniem przepycha się w piaskownicy? Coś, co dla Europejczyka wydaje się mało sensowną zabawą przerośniętych dzieci dla kultury wschodu jest świętem, którego nie da się porównać z czymkolwiek innym.