Tokyo: The day I fought a Sumo
I’ve been fascinated by sumo for years now.
Their strength, flexibility, the many traditions that go along with it. And how gents that large can move so fast, I will never quite understand.
So when I had the chance to wrestle a real sumo while visiting Tokyo, Japan, it’s safe to say that I was excited. REALLY excited. This is the story of how it went down.
In prep for our Japan vacation, I was pretty keen to try and do some quintessentially Japanese experiences, like dress up as Mario characters and drive go-karts through the streets of Tokyo, go to a cooking school, or soak in a traditional onsen (hot bath house).
So it was with some glee that we stumbled across the Asakusa Sumo Experience which offers just such a cool experience – the opportunity to wrestle a sumo and find out all about their training and lifestyles. This was just too good to pass up and I had to do it!
The event is held in Tokyo’s Asakusa neighbourhood, one of the nicest areas that we had the pleasure of exploring. Right across the road from the train station you will find the restaurant where the sumo experience is held on the second floor, where you will meet the other participants and Japanese hosts. No equipment or training necessary, they provide everything you need.
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Once we had entered and swapped our shoes for slippers, we managed to score front row seats to a carpeted wrestling area and a long table full of other guests stretched out behind us. Our host discussed many interesting details of sumo training and life while we awaited the arrival of the sumos, such as:
- The first formal sumo tournament was conducted 400 years ago, but sumo matches have occurred for well over 1000 years
- Sumo generally start serious training from the age of 15
- Sumo will normally train for 5 hours per day
- Sumo tournaments are held in every odd-numbered month, but the main ones in Tokyo are in January, May and September
- A grand champion, or Yokozuna, can earn up to US$5 million per year!
With the introductions complete, out walked the two sumo who would be our guides for the experience. They. Were. Huge. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, being sumo wrestlers and all, but up close and personal these boys are absolute man-mountains.
Over the next half hour, our two sumo guides explained to us some of the traditions and rituals of sumo tournaments, some of the basic techniques that sumo are taught, and what not to do (my game plan went out the window here). They also showed us a mini sumo match, pitting themselves against each other in what was a pretty even match. When they hit each other it was like two planets colliding and the sound up close was something to remember.
Finally, it was out turn. Our hosts called for volunteers (both male and females are encouraged to give it a go) and I strategically waited for a few other challengers to come forward before putting my hand up. All the better for me to test my game strategy, I told myself.
When my time came, I suited up in a mock sumo costume and faced off with a real sumo. We completed the initial rituals, I threw in some cocky smack talk to calm my nerves (it didn’t work) and we were off.
Now I should say here, I’m not a small person. I mean, I lift a few weights, like to think that I am reasonably strong and could at least make some kind of an impact, right? Wrong. I didn’t hold back in the opening hit…. and it didn’t matter at all. He didn’t budge. Not even a shudder. This was going to be a long match.
We tussled for a little bit and I made some embarrassing noises as I tried to lift his belt up to see if I could unbalance him at all. He obviously didn’t move one bit, and at one point, my feet lifted off of the floor and my sumo opponent, in complete control by this stage, twirled me around like I was a ballerina.
Having thoroughly ruined any chance of me thinking that I could out-compete a sumo, he casually gave me an opening and allowed me to push him out of the ring. Which, mind you, still took a bit of effort!
After our mini-tournaments, all participants got served a generous bento box with tonkatsu, rice, etc and we also got to try the sumo meal of choice – chanko-nabe. It’s a delicious, thick soupy dish of vegetables, tofu and balls of chicken and pork, which is very filling.
We also got to interact with the sumos, taking pictures with them, asking questions about their careers and learning more about the training regimes of sumos and they were happy to oblige us as many questions as we wanted on any topics.
This was one of most fun experiences that we had in Tokyo. It’s not often that you get the chance, as an Australian, to wrestle a sumo, have lunch with them and find out about this fascinating aspect of Japanese society. Although sadly my dreams of world sumo domination now appear shaky, I’m super glad that I took the opportunity to do this, as it really is a one of a kind experience.
Would you get in the ring with a Japanese sumo? Or would you rather check them out in a tournament? Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks to Beauty of Japan for providing us with this experience. If you want to test your strength, skill and, let’s be honest, pride, you can book your Sumo Experience through them here.
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