Published: November 17th 2007November 14th 2007
For those of you who don't like sumo; tough luck - we're turning up the temperature a couple of degrees today, so you might as well stop reading and hit the next journal link a few times... I started out a little bit earlier this morning (which translates to approximately 1 pm...) with the intent of having a "chance encounter" with some rikishi on the way to the arena. I had noticed a few lower ranking rikishi leaving after their bouts, walking down the street in their robes and sandals. Rikishi waiting at bus stops, sending SMS on their cell phones or waiting to cross the street. There is something appealing about how they blend into the cityscape. So with a little bit more time on my hands it didn't take long until I could zoom in on two fine specimen. I did my flawless bow, self-introduction and asked to take a photo. That was the easy part... placing myself and two rikishi in the same shot required a little bit more effort! As you can see from the photo the weather continues to be nice, blue sky and fresh air. You can almost feel a little bit of autumn in
The arena still has a lot of empty seats, and I don't see that many recurring faces. Except for those two girls I initially thought to be the special Kitazakura fan club, but they since widened their scope. Can't be too fussy about rikishi I guess. In front of me was another gaijin sumo lover, who had spent some 30 years in Japan already. He gave me some useful pointers and mentioned that some of the beyas
(sumo stables) on location here in Fukuoka welcomed visitors to drop by in the mornings and watch the training matches. An idea quickly grew in my head to seek out Kataonami beya
and try to lend some support to my hero Tamanoshima. Unfortunately the plan has a big hole in it. "Morning". All my efforts to get up early (pre-eleven) this week have so far failed miserably, and for some reason I still cannot manage to go to sleep until early in the morning. Is this what life at old age will be like? Anyway, moving on...
Today's bouts really included a scandal. I didn't notice it as it happened in front of my eyes, only later when I
studied the photographs did I see that the wrong winner was called in the match between Ama
. This is pretty striking. It may be one thing that the gyoji
will sometimes point out the incorrect winner, sometimes he will simply have an unfavourable position. However, he is usually quickly corrected by at least one of five shimpan
, sumo-elders placed ringside on all four sides of the dohyo (It is the head of the presiding shimpan that keeps ruining sumo photos worldwide with its silhouette in the lower section of the images). However, none spoke out. Further on, all matches are video recorded, instant replay is always available form a number of angles. I can't help but feel that the whole sumo association turned a blind eye to the outcome of this match, Ama was the rightful winner. Even worse, the "win" was awarded to ozeki Chiyotaikai, who now holds a flawless score of 4-0 and as such is currently in the lead of the tournament. And with the two grand masters being Mongols it is no great secret that a lot of Japanese really long for a fellow countryman to break into their dominion. However, were a match
like this to weigh in in a possible basho win there would be even more bitterness in the international sumo community. One cannot disregard that from time to time, questionable actions and decisions do harm the reputation of the Japanese Sumo Association. You can see the full range of events that I captured here
As the day's bouts were finished I decided to skip the subway and walk back to Tenjin instead. On my way over here I had noticed that when walking from Gofuku-machi
subway station to the Kokusai Center i was crossing the avenue Showa-dori
, which rang a bell, it is the main street just outside my hotel. So instead of going southwest and then northwest via subway I might as well walk due west which would also be a more interesting trip. I hadn't passed more than a few blocks when I did an interesting discovery. A little restaurant with a sumo caricature outside. This must be a nabe place! For those that do not know, chanko nabe
is a highly nutrient soup mix which is the staple diet of all rikishi. Among their duties, the younger rikishi have a lot of housework to perform in
their beyas. This includes cleaning and preparing the nabe for their elders. This is one reason why many rikishi also develop a fine sense of cuisine and many retired wrestlers have since opened restaurants at the end of their careers. In this particular instance I entered into a small shop-like eatery with only two tables. I did my best to communicate that I wanted some kind of nabe using my hideous broken Japanese but it worked fine. At first I got a little cold starter with pieces of squid, seaweed and cucumber while the chef prepared the food. It seemed I was one of a few customers at this time so the staff could give me a lot of attention.
After a little while a big pot with various raw ingredients was brought out and put on a little boiler on the table. It contained some kind of meatballs, fish or squid buns, lettuce, carrots, tofu, melon, three different kinds of mushrooms and noodles. I also got a little pot with some kind of green powder to add flavour as I saw fit. It went fine with the food but I noticed that after a while I must have
overdosed on it because the soup turned kinda salty.
So how does chanko nabe taste then? Well, it's great! And no doubt fattening too. I shocked myself by emptying the whole pot. Guess I won't be having any meals for the rest of the week. While I was dining the chef came out and chit-chatted with me. We talked about sumo for a while and he told me that some of the makuuchi stars were friends of his. Oh, they used to stop by here sometimes I wondered. Then it hit me. Of course this big guy was not an ordinary chef, he was an ex-career rikishi. It turned out that he retired some ten years ago, at the time he was fighting in the juryo division under the shikona
. Looking through his little place revealed all sorts of sumo memorabilia including photographs taken with Takamisakari and Musashimaru. I couldn't believe my luck at stumbling into a place like this! If you are ever in town for the basho, do yourself a favour and head on down to Showa-dori and turn west and look for this excellent place on the righthand side!
There are more photos below