Sumo

Exhibition events bring sumo to new audience

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Jungyo is similar to baseball’s spring training for sumo; wrestlers are more relaxed and laid back, and fans have more opportunities to interact with the giant fellows.

Some of the venues provide an unusual atmosphere not normally seen at the six regular tournaments each year.

On Sunday, the third annual KITTE Basho, held at the JP Tower, an office and commercial building attached to Tokyo Station, took place as the final summer jungyo stop.

The dohyo was installed on the ground floor, and the spectators watched the event from both ringside also above.

“When I first wrestled here, it was an unusual stage and so unique,” ozeki Takayasu said during a talk with yokozuna Hakuho that was observed by a few thousand people a few hours before their respective bouts. “But as this place has hosted this event twice, three times, I’ve begun to look forward to being a part of it.”

Middle-aged sisters Mari Takaba and Toshiko Koyano are long-time sumo supporters and have repeatedly attended the KITTE Basho.

Both Takaba and Koyano said that although the wrestlers don’t compete as hard in the jungyo tourneys as they do in regular basho, they are still able to enjoy seeing the wrestlers in the ring in a more relaxed manner.

“It should be fun even for those who come to see sumo for the first time,” said Takaba.

Probably due to space restrictions, the KITTE Basho did not put on other activities, but at other jungyo tournaments there are out-of-ring events such as handshake sessions and food stands which wrestlers sometimes patronize.

“So you could meet (the wrestlers) in person,” Takaba said.

Even at the KITTE Basho, there were many fans waiting between the ring and the wrestlers’ dressing rooms to ask for autographs and take photos.

In general, the jungyo also offer other entertaining events, such as chibikko zumo (children sumo), in which some notable wrestlers take challenges from multiple children.

“Wherever we go now, a lot of people come (to see our tournaments),” said Hakuho, who holds the all-time record with 39 Emperor’s Cups. “I’m genuinely happy about that.”

Hakuho encourages those who are not regular sumo fans to gain greater interest in the sport through the jungyo tournaments.

“It would be great if they come back for a second, third and fourth time,” he said.

Masaya Ito, a young spectator who observed part of the KITTE Basho from an upper floor of the building, had never seen sumo in person, but excitedly said that he was impressed by the size of the wrestlers and enjoyed the experience.

“It kind of made me think that I should go to a regular basho soon,” he said with a smile.

The 32-year-old Hakuho, by the way, made all of his comments with a smile, though he lost to fellow yokozuna Harumafuji in the day’s final bout.

That would almost never happen at a regular basho.

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