Let’s Sumo in Nagoya

Yes.. the city of Nagoya (名古屋).. When I think of this city, I think Toyota! Yes.. the car-maker’s headquarter is here! It is a city more known for its industrial prowess pumping out cars, aerospace parts and machineries than a popular tourist destination. In fact, my condensed Lonely Planet Guide omitted Nagoya altogether! Apparently there is even a joke among locals that all foreign visitors have been to Nagoya for just 3 minutes of their entire time in Japan, which is exactly how long a Shinkansen stops over at Nagoya before moving on to either Tokyo or Osaka. What a cruel joke!

I suppose I am no different. I was only here because the Sumo tournament is held here for the month of July at the famous Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium (愛知県体育館). This gymnasium is actually right within the Nagoya Castle precinct with history dating back 500 years. It all makes for a pretty cool entrance, given that you have to actually cross a moat to get to the gymnasium, like I am entering a castle, to watch this traditional sport!

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As you can see, it was pretty early in the morning (8:15am), so there wasn’t a lot of people at all. Apparently the Sumo world was badly affected by the recent publicity on illegal gambling and their links to the Yakuza underworld. You can read about it here. This in turn affects the number of participants coming to this event. All good for me! Since, it won’t be so crowded!

Sumo matches always run for an entire day, starting at around 8:30am until 6pm, for 15 days straight. I attended day number 12, with 3 more days left. You start with the lower grades Sumo known as Jonokuchi that are just beginners, and higher grade competitions start throughout the day. The highest, so called Makuuchi grade starts at 4:30pm, and finishes about 6pm.

Because it was so quiet in the morning, I get to go right to the ring side, and watch them very close to the actual ring.

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The objective is fairly simple. Just get the opposition out of the circle, without falling yourself or being thrown out of the ring. Yes, each one of these giants are over 120kg, and watching them pouncing around the circle is quite fun. I am actually quite surprised just how short each bout is. It can be as short as a few seconds, right up to a minute if you are lucky. It does live up to my expectation though, with some bouts raising eyebrows generating plenty of ‘Ooh’ and ‘Ahhh’

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The afternoon is when things really get interesting. Everyone has turned up to watch these Makuuchi grade sumos.

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Each bout or match, can still be quite short, but it is certainly a bit more interesting to watch. Unfortunately I cannot take better photos with my cheap, limited zoom camera from the back seats.

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I have come to learn the name “Hakuho”, who won the last 2 tournaments in a row, and is on his way to a 3rd straight win, here in Nagoya. He is actually a native Mongolian, and you will be surprised just how many non-Japanese competitors there are at this level! Hakuho eventually won the tournament in Nagoya on the last day with a perfect 15-0 score, and in the process, gained a new fan, ME!!

Hakuho

Source: sumo.goo.ne.jp

He is equivalent of Michael Jordan in basketball, or Tiger Woods of the golfing world, with unbeatable records. The crowds cheer for him, and all his opponents simply looked a bit scared facing him! Very awesome to watch live. I am only complaint is that each bout is TOO SHORT, before it moves on to the next set competitors! My total time seeing Hakuho was probably less than 5 minutes for the entire day I was there! I highly recommend you watch some Hakuho videos on Youtube to get a sense of the excitement he generates:

Yes.. Hakuho.. you are a legend!

After the day finished, I was planning to go home given Nagoya is suppose to be boring, right? Well, my personal tour guide (you know who you are) actually told me about this unique cuisine in Nagoya, called called Hitsumabushi (ひつまぶし). It is essentially a unagi dish (cooked eel), but prepared in such a way that it can be enjoyed multiple ways. It essentially comes like this.

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And because I look like a tourist, they provided me with a sheet explaining how to actually eat this dish!

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In summary, you can eat the dish in these 3 ways:

1. Just plain rice with eel
2. Add some Japanese leak on top of the eel
3. Eat with spice and soup (i.e. Rice soup)

Yes, locals around me look at me with amusement because I am trying to do everything the sheet says, and taking photos as well. But, I can honestly say, this is the best dish since I got here. It wasn’t cheap either, with the dish costing almost as much as the Sumo ticket!

Maybe it is true that there is not a lot of sights in Nagoya, but it was certainly worth more than just a 3-minutes Shinkansen stop! The Toyota Tech Museum would certainly be of interest to me, if I had more time. Give Nagoya a break! It’s a great city!!

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