Yokozuna Asashoryu, in a relaxed mood, April 7, 2006: click for gallery

We went to the annual 奉納相撲 (hounouzumou) Sumo exihibition at Yasukuni Shrine yesterday. It was the third year in the row for me, second for Naoko and Kaika. Unlike the last two times, I didn’t wake up at an ungodly hour (for me) and be one of the first to get in at the 8 a.m. gate-opening; this year we decided to go with the flow so to speak and we got there about 10:30. Funnily enough, while we were still at home eating our breakfast there was a 生中継 (nama chuukei, or live broadcast) from the event on とくダネ, one of the morning shows, showing the usual opening rush of fans scrambling to get the seats next to the 土俵 (dohyo, ring).

At any rate, the place was quite full when we got there but we found a decent location near the makeshift 花道 (hanamichi, literally flower path) that the rikishi enter down. This was pretty much what I had wanted anyway, as when you sit in the areas down by the dohyo you must take off your shoes and you feel a bit trapped. This year I wanted to try to get more shots of the rikishi when they were just standing around or walking down the hanamichi, and it was easy to get in and out from where we were.

Despite being a very chilly and overcast day, the place was more packed than either of the two previous years, an indication that perhaps finally, the popularity of the sport is taking a turn for the better. There were of course the usual hardcore fans (I guess that would include me), the おばあさん・おじいさん達 (obaasan/ojiisan-tachi, elderly set) bussed in from somewhere, the legions of French speaking elementary schoolkids (they’re there every year, but only stay 45 minutes or so), and the tourists visiting the shrine itself who wander in wondering what all the commotion is about. But it seemed to me there were a lot more folks who enjoy Sumo on a casual level. It doesn’t hurt of course that the event is free.

Partly because where we were sitting, and partly because I’m becoming something of an old-hand at these “exhibitions,” but I must say I barely paid attention to any of the bouts, a word I use lightly. Let’s just say these guys know how to put on a crowd pleasing show, and there were an inordinate and unrealistic amount of うっちゃり (utchari, backward pivot throw) in evidence. No matter, for the fans this event isn’t really about the sumo, nor even about the ostensible Shinto “offering,” but rather more akin to a symphony-in-the-park outing, with bentos, sake, and sumo wrestlers. The latter were for the most part in a relaxed mood as you would expect, no game faces here. Yokozuna Asashoryu (that’s him above) was even more jovial that I’ve seen him before at these types of events, practically dancing his way down the hanamichi, tossing the 清めの塩 (kiyome no shio, purification salt) backwards onto the yobidashi’s head instead of onto the dohyo, and glad-handing the fans as his made he way out of the sunken amphitheater to whatever car had brought him to the proceedings. And interestingly enough, for whatever reason Asashoryu decided to don his gold まわし (mawashi, belt worn by wrestlers), which hasn’t been seen in over a year.

The only sour note, and it’s the same every year, is the question of why this event has to be at the nationalistic Yasukuni Shrine in the first place. It’s a shame such a nice event is held at such a distasteful place.

(Click the above photo for a gallery of the event).

 

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