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Nagoya Sumo Tournament

I was able to attend the 14th and second to final day of the summer Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament. I arrived early afternoon, when the last of the lower ranked wrestlers were still battling their way to move up in the world. I saw the Ring-entrance Ceremony of both the Juryo (intermediate) and Makuuchi (upper) divisions, and then the Yokuzuna (highest rank) Ring-entrance ceremony, too. On this day, all my favourite wrestlers won (always makes for a good day), and saw some great, and entertaining bouts.

There have been numerous controversies in sumo in the last few years, culminating in the latest illegal gambling issue. As a result, far fewer tickets have sold, and some ticket vendors have claimed that they will run at a loss by the end of the tournament. Also, some important sponsors have withdrawn their support, namely HB-101 that was the biggest financial contributor to the sport. Last year, the sumo association ceded, and allowed foreign advertisers to show their banners, consequently, McDonalds Japan is now a major sponsor, and is currently one of the very few supporters of sumo. Interestingly, when the banners were paraded, the crowded cheered and applauded, I never thought I’d see anyone do such a thing at the sight of a Golden M.

These sumo photos will be available at both Asia Photo Connection and my PhotoShelter account. Also, look out for the “Metaphors in Sumo” and Sumo Spills that I’m planning to produce, soon.


Japanese Sumo – Images by Andrew Blyth

Nagoya Summer Sumo Tournament 2018

I’ll be at the Nagoya tournament on Wednesday 11th July. Photos may be available later that day for online sale via my portfolio within hours of the tournament finishing that day (6pm local time). However, exclusive rights can be purchased, and photos can be delivered raw during the event if you contact me as soon as possible.

At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament

At the Osaka Spring Sumo Tournament

5 Things to enjoy in Nagoya Japan

It’s kind of hard to believe that this city needs an introduction. It is home of the Toyota Motor Corporation, it’s parent company, and the other subsidiaries, and the swathe of other automotive related companies. It is the home of the famous JR Central bullet trains (the white and blue-stripped ones) that service between Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto, and Osaka. The shape of modern Japan evolved from the Battle of Sekigahara (site is a 20 minute train ride from Nagoya station) where Japan was unified by Nobunaga Oda (born in Nagoya Castle), and Ieyasu Tokugawa (born in nearby Okazaki Castle). Tokugawa was the first Shogunate of Japan in 1603 and the Tokugawa Clan had remained the rulers of Japan until the Meiji Restoration era when the US sent naval ships to force Japan to open up to foreign trade. The Tokugawa Clan survives today, though they seem to be based in Tokyo, and manages the Nippon Yusen shipping company.


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A fashionable young man riding through Sakae.

More photos of Nagoya are on my portfolio.

Nagoya today, is a thriving city, with land prices that rival Tokyo and London. It has the world’s largest train station (by floor area, which includes a department store, offices, and a luxury hotel). It is steeped in history, and thoroughly a member of the 21st century.

 

Getting to Nagoya:

Nagoya is very well connected. It is serviced by a domestic airport at Komaki (on the Meitetsu train company from Nagoya Station), and the Centrair International airport (aka Chubu airport), on a different Meitetsu train line. Nagoya is on the main Tokaido bullet train line between Tokyo and Osaka. It can also be reached from Osaka by the cheaper Kintetsu train company. Commuting in the city is really super easy with the Nagoya City Subway (aka chikatetsu), Meitetsu, Kintetsu, and JR train companies. The buses are mainly part of the Nagoya City Subway system. The most popular transport ic card used is the Manaca (but buying single-use tickets with coins is normal, too).


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So, what is this best kept secret of Japan? Here are five things to introduce the city to you (there are of course more, but this is a start).

 

1. Nagoya & Inuyama Castles

These two castles are night-and-day different to each other. They are a world apart in so many ways. You must have a “castle day” on your itinerary. Firstly, see Nagoya Castle (Wikipedia). It’s a replica, or reconstruction, though the locals don’t put it that way. They prefer “rebuilt”, especially since the US air force fire-bombed the original. This reconstruction was completed (with concrete and an elevator for lazy samurais) in 1959. Today it’s a museum, and not a military strong-hold any more.

A young lady using a guidebook in Japan.

A young lady at Nagoya Castle. Buy this Cormorant Fishing photo

In contrast, Inuyama Castle (Wikipedia) is in original condition, with timbers hundreds of years old. Low beams to duck under, and a deck you can walk out on for excellent panoramic views, including the battle field of Sekkigahara, where the Tokugawa’s won Japan. There are great local festivals there, especially worth seeing the cherry blossom festival and portable shrines. Also, as seen below, there is cormorant fishing demonstrations at night for the middle months of the year. Because of the nature of Inuyama Castle, I’d really recommend you spend the morning at Nagoya Castle, have lunch in nearby Sakae, and then go to Inuyama Castle for the afternoon. It’s great to experience the modern, and then authentic in this order.

Cormorant Fishing
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Above, cormorant Fishing near Inuyama Castle

To get to Nagoya castle from Nagoya station, take the subway (yellow Higashiyama Line) to Sakae, and change to the Meijo (purple) Line. Get off at Shyakusho Station. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. To get to Inuyama Castle (Google Maps), from Nagoya station, take the Meitetsu train company on the Inuyama Line to Inuyama station or the one after it, Inuyama Yuen Station. From Nagoya to Inuyama Yuen Station it takes about 30 minutes for about ¥600. Stroll through the town until you get to the castle. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.

 


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Nagoya Castle

 

2. Shopping

Ask anyone in Nagoya what their hobbies are, they typically reply “shopping, eating, and sleeping”. I agree, these are not hobbies per se, but this is how they do spend their time. The main places for shopping is in the underground arcades in front of and behind Nagoya Station. These are called Esca and Unimall. Also in Sakae at the street level department stores, back alley shops, and the underground arcade. Finally, young people love to hangout at the street level arcades at Osu. There are lots of fashion stores for women, electronics stores, and some bookstores. Osu often has events on, and the visually striking Osu Kanon Temple is worth checking out.

To get to Sakae, from Nagoya station, take the subway two stops to Sakae (¥200, about 5 minutes). To get to Osu from Nagoya, take the subway one stop to Fushimi and change to the Tsurumai (blue) line, and go for one stop and get off at Osu Kanon Station. Total travel time is about 10 minutes, ¥200. Follow the crowds to and past Osu Kannon Temple. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.


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Osu is the centre of Nagoyan youth culture, and shopping.

 

3. Restaurants / Nightlife

Nagoya is a Japanese-foodies heaven. There are restaurants galore everywhere around Nagoya station, Fushimi, Sakae, Sakae-Machi, and Osu. I cannot recommend one, simply because you cannot swing a cat without hitting it against some kind of bar, café, restaurant, or other eatery. Food is really cheap, like about ¥1,000 (USD$10) for a good plate or “set menu” of quality food. If you had to shoe-string it, you can get noodles or a bowl of beef and rice for under ¥400 (USD$4).


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Restaurants use curtains, like shown above, to indicate that they are open for customers.

A lot of places, including department stores and regular shops, are open late, like up to 9pm. Note that Korean and Taiwanese stores are often open later. In Japan, though, there is a caveat. Most Japanese people don’t go out to mix and meet new people; that’s really rare. So don’t expect to find much in the way of pubs and nightclubs like back home. Instead, they spend time with people they already know getting drunk at restaurants known as an ‘izakaya’ (kind of a restaurant-pub). Food there is usually high quality. However, I’m finding (things are changing) that cheap prices is starting to equal cheap food. Good prices equal properly good food. Also, if you think you’re going to enjoy a good Italian restaurant, think again. It’ll be a Nagoya take on Italian style. So expect shrimp on your cabonara, Japanese-rice seasoning on your spaghetti, or a side of rice with a seaweed seasoning on top. The only thing that really annoys me is that cheap restaurant’s (or expensive restaurants scamming their customers) idea of salad is simply shredded cabbage with dressing. If you really did want to go to a pub or nightclub, these places are typically frequented by the expat community, so it’s a great way to meet expat locals. In Nagoya notable places include Shooters, The Hub, Coopers, and probably the best of the bunch, Red Rock (see Nagoya Info).

Regarding transport, be aware of the last train times for you. The last train is typically 11.50pm or just after midnight. Taxis are about, but expensive. Finally, Japan is not a rowdy, raucous type of country. So nights out are typically peaceful and light-hearted.


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Fashionable young women out at night shopping in Sakae.

 

4. Events

There are a whole bunch of things happening in Nagoya for much of the year. For instance (there are many others):


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Contestants in the Nagoya street dance competition, “Domatsuri” in Sakae, Nagoya.

 

5. Atsuta Shrine

This shrine attracts about 9 million visitors each year (Wikipedia), and is one of the three most important sites for Shinto, the state religion. The three important places are Ise Shrine, Atsuda Shrine, and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Ise Shrine, two hours away in Mie prefecture, is like the Vatican; and Atsuta Shrine is like St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The third most important place is where the Emperor lives, the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Each of these three sites have one of the three important relics (Wikipedia) that give the right to rule to the Emperor. There are no known drawings or photographs of these items, and so there is no independent verification that these items are housed at the purported locations, or even exist. The sword is kept at Atsuta Shrine, the mirror is kept in Ise Shrine, and the jade is kept in the palace in Tokyo.

At Atsuda Shrine, there are many little wooden buildings on the grounds, and each of these house a god of some specialty. Usually, there are retired men hanging around the grounds. Often, these men want to simply keep their English up, and so they like to just introduce themselves to tourists and offer a kind of free tour and some info. Take them up on their kind offer, they are friendly and actually quite informative. Take some sort of sweets to share with them; I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.


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There are festivals and events held often through the year. The shrine is insanely packed with people shuffling shoulder to shoulder on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th of January each year. They return the previous year’s wooden arrow which brings fortune, pray for the new year, and get a new wooden arrow for the new year. Each year, these arrows are ceremoniously burnt as an offering to the Shinto gods. There is a ceremonial archery event on the 15th January. A lantern festival is also held in July. Every weekend there is something happening, usually Shinto style weddings, and Shinto-christenings for infants are often held here.

Take the Meitetsu train from Nagoya to JinguMae station (about two stops) for about ¥230, or JR for ¥190. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.


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One of the main buildings at Atsuta Shrine.

 

There is of course more to see in Nagoya. These are my picks, but you might find something more to your taste here at Nagoya Info, Trip Advisor, and Lonely Planet websites. However, I can offer you a…

Naked Man Festival, Kounomiya
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The Naked Man Festival, at Kounomiya, usually held in February each year.

 

Bonus: Nagoya City Art Gallery

This is the oddest thing I’ve experienced so far this year. I went to the city owned art gallery and discovered that they had an exhibition of not one, but a few Andy Whorhols, Calder, and a Chagall. They have a good permanent collection, and often something interesting on most times through the year. Annoyingly, the “English website” for this gallery is actually just an old pdf document, but it’s here, Nagoya City Art Museum (also see Trip Advisor, & Wikipedia). The gallery was designed and constructed by renowned Kisho Kurokawa between 1983 to 1987, and opened in 1988. It is a five to ten minute walk from Fushimi subway station, which is a 2 minute ride from Nagoya Station on the Higashiyama (Yellow Line), or 2 to 5 minutes from the Osu Kanon Station on the Tsurumai Line (Blue Line). Follow the signs, and see Google Maps. See Hyperdia.Com for train schedules and current ticket prices.

POTW, 1st July: Sumo Summer

In the middle two weeks of this month is the Nagoya Grand Sumo Summer Tournament (or something of that approximation of words). Anyway, it’s in Nagoya, it’s sumo, it’s summer, it’s a tournament, and it’s grand. This Photo of the Week is from a past Nagoya sumo tournament. Currently, all the sumo stables are here in Nagoya and surrounds staying at temples, shrines, and other places, and doing their practice sessions early in the morning at training rings that are also at shrines, temples, and even public schools.

For more sumo photos, including training sessions and real bouts, see my PhotoShelter portfolio.

Also, today marks the official start of the Mt Fuji climbing season. The climb up the mountain is usually crammed with about 10,000 people scrambling, usually at night for the sunrise view, but in bumper to bumper conditions. Now Mt Fuji is to be World Heritage listed, it’s bound to be insane.

Sumo Day 8

Another summary of the top bouts of the Nagoya summer tournament.

Kitataiki* attempts to throw 194 centimetre Makikai out of the ring, but Makikai switches precarious situation into an arm bar throwing ‘Taiki out of the ring.

Toshinowaka is pushed from the rear (again) out of the ring by Wakayama

Masanoyama belly-wobbles Takanofuji out of the ring.

Tamawashi flails against Miyabiyama, who slappled Tamawashi about, until Tamawashi is slapped out of the ring.

Yoshikaze dodges Sarumafuji on lift off, and the bout was over within 0.9secconds of start. The crowd was not moved.

Chiyotai is given a wedgie and lifted out of the ring by Kaisei (despite his sore back).

Toyobiki* is near defeat as Homasho struggles to wrestle him near the edge of the ring, but Toyobiki leans a little and twists Homasho out.

Tokitenku and Aran take the opportunity to hug in the middle for some time in the ring (42 secs), but Tokitenku lifts and nudges Aran out.

Huge heavy weight Georgian Gagamaru drives his head into fellow Georgian Tochinoshin’s chest and drives him backwards into the crowd.

Takekaze does the dishonerable by dodging and slapping down his opponent at the start of the bout. Another case where the crowd is not pleased.

Winless Takayasu is driven to the edge and out by Shohozan.

Takitenho flails hard but falls on his face in front of his opponent.

After some mind games ahead of the bout, stare-downs, and false start, Kisenosato and Wakakoryu struggle against each other, but Kisenosato cooly pushes out Wakakoryu.

Ozeki and Bulgarian Koto-oshu with broken foot loses to much lower ranked wrestler who scored his first win this tournament.

Harumafuji is airborne as Toyonoshima is pushed out of the ring. The ring is a little slippery with salt and drying clay.

Baruto, who was doing well, is pushed out by an eager lower-ranked opponent Ryogyuryu*

Tochiozan comes so close to winning against top-ranked Hakuho, as both wrestlers pull the same move almost simultaneously, and fall at nearly the same time.

Hakuho, Harumafuji remain undefeated, with four wrestlers with one loss.

*Spelling uncertain

Sumo day 1

Summary of the main bouts of Day 1 of the Nagoya Summer Sumo Tournament, in chronological order with the final and top ranked wrestler last.

Harumafuji weak start, but convincing, if not, gentle win.

Tokutenho is forced out by Baruto after a brief hugging match. Baruto uses his right knee to keep Tokutenho from escaping, forcing him to go wheels up in the crowd.

Kotoshogiku pushes out Tochiozan in a slap, run, get behind and push. Kotoshogiku uses good hip movement to keep balance and be well placed.

Kisenosato (aka Blinky, for his blinking habit ahead of a bout) had to chase his opponent (Myogiryu?)  around the ring before he was able to belly-out (frontal-force out) his opponent.

Toyonoshima and Hakuho both fall out of the ring and Hakuho touches the ground milliseconds before Toyonoshima. Judges declare a rematch. Hakuho struggles to get a two-hand grip, but almost immediately doing so pushes out Toyonoshima. Great sumo.

Sumo today Day 15 (final day)

On the final day of the Osaka Spring Tournament we enter this day with these stunning facts:

  • Mongolian Sekiwake-ranked Kakuryu has 13wins-1loss
  • Fellow Mongolian Hakuho has 12wins-2losses
  • Kakuryu needs Hakuho to lose to avoid a play-off and to win by regulation.
  • If Kakuryu wins, he will be the first Sekiwake to win the tournament, and be promoted to the second highest rank Ozeki since 1999.

* Sekiwake is a low rank, Yokuzunas are the highest and most expert ranked wrestlers.

Today

  • Homasho charges against and defeats the thrusting Miyabiyama.
  • Toyonoshima defeats Kitataiki by going belly to belly, and wins a pile of cash and also wins his fourth technique prize, which also includes a pile of cash.
  • Tochinoshin defeats Fujiazuma the dirty way by jumping high and pushing his forearms down on Fujiazuma’s back forcing his to the floor.
  • Wakakoryu defeats Tochiozan by locking up his arms in a sumo cuddle and forces him out.
  • Gagamaru defeats Tokyotenho by big-dude barge out
  • Aminishiki narrowly defeats Aran, as both fall out of the ring. Video replay might have offered a different outcome.
  • Goeido defeats Kakuryu in a sharp and fast start, causing a huge upset. Kakuryu is now at two losses, matching Hakuho, causing a play-off. Goeido worked hard for his home crowd, and spoilt the tournament for Kakuryu fans. Everybody’s now on edge.
  • Kotoshogiku slides Kisenosato out of the ring for a cringe-making-fall of the side of the ring. Good sumo from Kotoshogiku.
  • Harumafuji swings / rolls Koto Ooshu out of the ring. Very spectacular. Everyone in Bulgaria must have cringed and closed their eyes.
  • Hakuho struggles against the Estonian Baruto and almost loses.

Play-off: Hakuho vs. Kakuryu

I had to turn Twitter off in the lead up as hash-tag #sumo was overwhelming my computer! Wow! Twitter was going wild!

Kakuryu wasn’t mentally prepared enough with his eyes, for the first time, too close on the prize. Exciting. Hakuho forced Kakuryu to the edge of the ring, kakuryu came so close with his feel on the hay bales, and heels so close to the dirt, Kakuryu was able to lever forward a little, rescued himself, just to be rolled over any way. He will be promoted to Ozeki any way. The whole situation reminds me of the wonderful potential of Harumafuji. Well done to Hakuho, and to Kakuryu for his first attempt at the Emperors Cup.

File image of Hakuho, Nagoya, July 2011

Going to a sumo tournament

Here is a list of things you need to know when going to see a sumo tournament

1. The lowest ranked wrestlers go first, early in the day. I’ve heard rumors that the first bouts start at about 8am (I don’t believe it), but certainly the lowest ranks are already duking it out at 11am. If you arrive early enough, you can move around and sit where you like until most of the people arrive, and then you’ll eventually have to retreat to your own seat.

2. Lunch is available there. There are announcements that say you should not bring in any food, and only purchase food there at the venue, for health reasons (I don’t believe it). The food available is perfect for traditional Japanese palates, and are expensive. Range of alcoholic beverages is also limited. I hope you love Asahi Super Dry.

3. Even though tickets are for all day, most people arrive start to after 2pm, and often the whole crowd is there by 5.30pm. The final bout is at about 5.50pm.

4. Between each division of wrestlers, there is a brief pause, where the ring is cleaned, and umpires take a break. The upper ranks are introduced by some sort of ceremony that announces their turn. See the upper ranked ceremony photo here: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45094 the upper division is also marked by the ‘dance of the Yokuzuna’, performed by a Yokuzuna-ranked wrestler (the highest rank). The final ceremony is after 6pm, and it’s the bow (as in ‘bow & arrow’) twirling ceremony, see photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45099

5. The lower ranked division bouts are marked by unfancy mawashi’s (underwear / belts) and the referee is barefoot.

6. Throwing salt into the ring is done only by the upper category wrestlers. It is used to purify the ring ahead of each bout. Wrestlers may do this once, twice, or thrice ahead of a bout. Photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45101 Women are not allowed to set foot in the ring under any circumstances either before or during any point of a tournament.

Sumo wrestlers of the Minezaki Stable practicing ahead of the summer Nagoya Grand Sumo Tournament

Early morning practice session

7. I’m not entirely sure if they are successful in psyching each other out, but they do attempt to intimidate, delay, call the shots on each other ahead of each bout, even the lowest ranked dudes. Menacing photo: http://www.westheimphoto.com/lightbox/index/detail/45097

8. Key vocabulary: “dohyo” is the ring and mound; “oshi-dashi” is push-out; “makuuchi” is the highest division; “juryo” is the second highest division (see Wikipedia for more info); “basho” is tournament.

9. Ranks of the upper division (the “makuuchi” division):

  • Yokuzuna (highest)
  • Ozeki (2nd highest)
  • Sekiwaki (3rd highest)

10. Wrestlers get quite low salaries, but the upper division wrestlers can  occasionally win a bit extra. Each time banners are paraded around the ring ahead of a bout, these show the sponsors of that particular bout. It is advertising. To sponsor or show an advertisement banner, sponsors need to pay about ¥60,000 (USD$700, GBP£450) per banner. The final bout can have upto or over 20 banners. Wrestlers can also supplement their incomes with advertising contracts. The Bulgarian wrestler Koto Ooshu has been sponsored by the Japanese company that produce the “Bulgarian Yoghurt” line of products. I have no idea why they have a Bulgarian yoghurt, but the product line precedes Koto Ooshu’s involvement in Sumo.

11. Sumo tournaments are fifteen days long, usually beginning on the second Sunday of the month. Tickets go on sale about a month before the tournament begins. There are three main types of tickets: Box (expensive, and good for small parties with your buddies, but very cramped); Seats (good for those with long legs, but uncomfortable on an unpadded tush); ultra cheap seats (byo telescope). See the official Sumo website for prices and availabilities, but purchase the tickets online and pick them up at a convenience store. The annual tournament schedule is:

  • January – Tokyo
  • March – Osaka
  • May – Tokyo
  • July – Nagoya
  • September – Tokyo
  • November – Fukuoka

12. You can tell if it’s a full house and they sold all the tickets if a small white banner is lowered above the roof of the ring. It basically says thanks for the sell-out day.

13. The sumo will be on TV from 4pm to 6pm (Tokyo time), and you can push the ‘language button’ to hear the English commentators say their bit. The sumo is also currently available (in only Japanese) on the web at: http://sumo.goo.ne.jp/hon_basho/torikumi/eizo_haishin/asx/sumolive.asx (opens your media player for live streaming)

14. You can see the sumo for free… well sort of. At various places around Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka cities in the early mornings from about 7-9am they train from about two weeks before the tournament begins (see pic above). They often do little to no training on the first day of the tournament, and less toward the end. You can find the various stables at local temples, schools, at the grounds of a restaurant, or any place that fanatically supports the sumo more than I. If you ever see an unusual very tall, vertical banner, usually on bamboo poles, then that’s probably the name of the stable training there, and you should get yourself out of bed early to see if it is indeed a stable training there.

15. Useful links:

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