Sumo tournament, Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo
I’ve always wondered how much muscle those sumo guys have underneath their fat. They’re big chaps, no doubt, but they’re also so strong.
I never realised how strong until I saw them in action up close. It doesn’t take much for them to take a competitor down. And keep in mind that competitor probably weighs about 150 kilograms.
Once a year at Tokyo’s famous Yasukuni Shrine a ceremonial sumo tournament is held. It’s one of the highlights of the sport’s calendar and it’s a chance for the best in Japan (and around the world) to compete with each other.
The sumo wrestlers drink from a ladle of water, clap their hands, and throw some salt over the clay ring.
Facing off against their opponents they do a threatening stretch, crouched down they raise first one leg high into the air and then the other.
They stare at each still and focused, waiting for the match to start. And then it’s on.
Rushing towards each other they crash together, that muscle even more important than the fat. Like two large beasts of burden they lock into each other and strain to force the other out of the ring or on to the ground.
It doesn’t take long – normally less than a minute – and one emerges victorious from the battle.
Of course, being Japan, the bout in the ring is the climax of many ceremonial obligations and it’s fascinating to see the prayers, the singing, the parades and the drumming that comes before the final showdowns.
It’s a centuries old sport that has kept its traditions and rejected many of the commercial lures of other international sports. That’s not to say the top sumo wrestlers don’t get well paid and there aren’t sponsorship deals to go along with it, but there’s a purity that the sport is keen to preserve.
It’s fascinating to see the sport in an environment like this.
The large official tournaments don’t have the same kind of intimacy as the venue here at the Yasukuni Shrine, surrounded by the pink spring cherry blossoms. The crowd sits outside in the sun and can easily get autographs in the corner from their favourite sumo wrestlers.
I think the best way to help you appreciate the event is to share some of the pictures I took there. I hope you enjoy this special photo essay.
Around Tokyo station
If you’re looking for a budget option, you can get comfortable dorm beds at the great Wise Owl Hostel or the modern Hostel Den.
Tokyo is an expensive city but APA Hotel Ginza-Takaracho is a great price for a nice and convenient option near the station.
For a very trendy modern hotel close to the station, I think you'll like The Gate Hotel Tokyo by Hulic.
And for one of the best hotels in Tokyo, I would recommend The Peninsula.
There are a couple of great budget options here, with good dorms beds at the cool Imano Hostel and the modern UNPLAN Shinjuku.
For an affordable hotel, a good option in central Shinjuku is IBIS Tokyo Shinjuku.
If you're looking for a cool design hotel, then Bespoke Hotel Shinjuku is a great choice.
And for a luxury stay, you can't go past the gorgeous Park Hyatt.