As is now pretty apparent, I’ve got lots of stories about Japan. There are good reasons:
1. I lived there
2. Japan is awesome
3. Drinking is allowed pretty much everywhere
When you put these three together, you get the recipe for a magical experience that I encourage all to sample at some point in their lives. I was lucky and had a ton of friends come visit me and everyone of them hand a mind numbingly awesome time. If you’ve ever been to Tokyo and not had a great time, you need to go back with better friends – just a hint: I’m available for hire!
But one time that really sticks out in my mind was when I went to a sumo tournament with my buddy who was visiting and my roommates. I had never seen sumo and I knew nothing about it aside from it being giant men in diapers tackling each other, but I’ll be damned if I was going to see Japan’s national sport. Oh how I was glad that I did.
We bought tickets for the middle of the tournament, which meant there were many available and for a reasonable price. If you get them during the finals, when everyone else does, be prepared to pay through the nose. It takes over two weeks and is in Tokyo three times a year (six tournaments total throughout Japan) so you have lots of opportunity to see a tournament. The tickets we bought were for the back row in the second level – the cheapest seats at like 3600 yen ($36) – but the beauty is if no one is there, you can just move to a different seat until they come and kick you out, but if you go during the middle of the tournament this won’t be an issue.
Also, you are allowed to bring in your own liquor. Yes, you read that right.
So as you can imagine, we stocked up on Chu-Hi and beer and not surprisingly, as the tournament progressed we got more and more into it. This was partly due to the alcohol and partly due to how great sumo is. Yes, the matches are over in a matter of seconds, but the build up before each bout really gets the crowd into it. Starting with the lower ranked wrestlers and building up to the really famous ones, the energy in the room gets nuts.
By the time the final round rolled around where the yokozunas came out to do battle, the crowd was going nuts. They have a little entourage, toss the salt to purify the ring like all the others but with a little more attitude, and then stare down their opponent – keep in mind these are MASSIVE guys. If the yokozuna loses to a non-yokozuna, the audience throws their seat cushions, and wouldn’t you know – that is what happened.
To conclude, sumo tournaments are an amazing way to spend time in Tokyo getting exposed to their more traditional culture that is becoming more and more dominated by technology and foreign imports. No, you may not understand all that is going on, but as long as you have a few drinks and a good group of people, you can have a wicked experience that you’ll never forget.