Sumo Tournament in Towada

This weekend Julie and I met about 12 ALTs from the Aomori area in Towada, a town east of Noheji that contains about 60,000 people, for a national university sumo tournament. It was our first time witnessing live sumo matches.

The site you see in the center is “sacred space.” Shoes and women are not allowed near its clay surface. Participants maintain the site’s sanctity through the ritual of tossing salt between matches. Most sumo prodigies begin training for professional play at the age of 15 and thus never participate in this national university tournament. Some wrestlers in the tournament’s cream of the crop may eventually turn pro, but most will remain connected to the sport through coaching or teaching.

At the end of the eight hour tournament, one team is crowned the winner but there is also an individual bracket. Both final matches take place in the afternoon. This year a major upset took place in the quarter final as one of the Tokyo universities was eliminated by a non-Tokyo university (Tokyo and Osaka always have the best teams). Tokyo Athletic University later took down the 3-time defending champions, inspiring raucous cheering from the otherwise docile crowd.

An ALT from Canada filled me in on the action, providing much of the information written above. He regularly volunteers at local elementary and junior high schools where students learn sumo wrestling and judo.

I particularly enjoyed watching the person he referred to as “the technician,” a wrestler who although was much smaller than the rest of the participants, made great use of his agility and the laws of physics to force his larger opponents out of the ring.

Where were all the people? Oban (an unofficial Japanese holiday), a national high school baseball tournament, various festivals, and the northern, rural setting are probably to blame.

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