Saturday, 19 May 2012

Sumo and Song

To me, the best thing about this week's Grand Sumo Tournament in Ryogoku, Tokyo, wasn't the excitement of waiting for famous wrestlers to come down the passageway to the ring

or the wrestlers themselves arriving at the stage entrance outside

or the marvellous trials of strength, both physical


 and mental

(and that's not even mentioning the sheer sensory overload of it all)

No, it wasn't any of these. To me, the best thing was the singing. A Sumo tournament was the last place I'd have expected to find the sort of singing that transports you back to Once Upon a Time world - but that's exactly what it did. One of the referees gets up at the start of each bout and sings the bout into being, anouncing the wrestlers' names and rankings as if they were words from some religious text. For me, the singing stole the show before the main event even started (despite the background noise and the fact that it was impossible to film from my seat miles away from the ring, though of course I attempted to anyway, result below)

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised and amazed at this spectacle. The Sumo ring, with its roof and sacred inner space, is clearly modelled on Shinto shrines, and Sumo is itself perhaps even more about the ritual than the actual bouts. Later, I learned that Sumo originated as part of a religious harvest festival - that made sense. But oh, the haunting sound of the fan-carrying singer standing alone in the middle of the ring, voice ringing out across the crowd, was something else:

I might forget the wrestlers' names (actually, I already have), the rules of the game, and even where the stadium was. But what I will remember is the song.

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