Sumo matches, defined by spastic bouts of extremely girly slapping and shoving, are usually over as soon as they start. If you’re with friends, distracted by questions about where to find the nearest conbini for a beer and bento run, you might miss one all together. This happened continually to Meir, who arrived at Thursday’s tournament towards the day’s end, what any sumo fan will tell you is the most exciting part. He came fresh from sangen practice, the massive instrument tucked into its massive black case, carefully hauled through the crowds.
“I don’t want this,” he said, referring to the English translation of the match list. “I want the Japanese one. Why did they give me this? Who’s up now? Let’s make it interesting. I’ll take the guy in the red, someone else take the guy in the black.”
“Are you sure you want to do that?” asked Alan, who had been studying the English translation. “The guy in the red is the underdog.”
“I like the underdog,” insisted Meir. “Come on, Sean. Winner gets a beer.”
“Who am I for again?” asked Sean. “Your man in the black?”
“I think so. Wait. Which one is the underdog again?”
The crowd roared – Black had flipped Red in the red onto the ring. End match.
Each contestant in the 15-day tournament has 1 match a day; perhaps 10 seconds to shine and if he loses, hurled out of the clay ring, he has 24 hours of depressed nothing ahead of him. Referees announce the beginning of each match by waving paper fans. The wrestlers clomp onto the ring, stretch their mighty, meaty legs and toss defiant handfuls of salt into the air; strictly for purification purposes. When the yokozuna – the highest rank wrestlers – fight, excitement floods the air. When the yokozuna loses, the pillows decorating the stadium seats are hurled.
“I hope the next one loses,” said Alan, after the first yokozuna shocked and electrified the crowd by losing to a wrestler far beneath his rank. “I want to throw my cushion!”
“But Alan!” protested Steve, ever the gentleman. “You might hit someone!”
The second yokozuna lost and the cushions rained yet again. I ripped my own from my plastic seat and hurled it into the crowd using my patented 9 year-old girl wind up. The cushion fell into the tier below us, clunking a woman on the head who, undaunted, simply scooped it up and hurled it further down. I turned to Steve for my lecture and there he was – hurling his cushion with the best of us.