Monday, January 16, 2006

"Rain Falls From Concrete Coloured Skies"

Monday 16th January 2006

The recent heavy snowfalls were replaced last weekend by rains and spring-like temperatures causing avalanches,house collapses and more fatalities.To date at least 90 people have died from snow and weather related accidents.
I had a cold, wet weekend.Friday and Saturday were very dark.Streetlights were on at 3pm piercing the murky gloom.Temperatures in single digits.The highlight of the weekend was watching the first sumo tournament of the year on NHK.

The first sumo tournament or basho is held in Tokyo each year.There are 6 bashos held in various cities throughout the year.Each one starts on a Sunday and runs for 15 days.During this time each wrestler competes in one bout a day.The bashos begin at 10am with the lower ranked wrestlers fighting.The higher ranked wrestlers compete in the late afternoon and the bigger crowds arrive round 4pm to watch them.

There are no weight divisions in sumo.Instead there are 5 or so ranks.The top two ranks are ozeki and the highest,yokozuna. Currently there are no Japanese yokozuna.The sole yokozuna is Asashoryu from Mongolia.He won an unprecedented seven straight bashos and set a record for the number of victories last year.Foreigners are becoming more prominent in the sport.
As well as Asashoryu there is a newly promoted ozeki Kotooshu from Bulgaria and a number of lesser ranked wrestlers including Kokkai from Georgia.
Sumo is a simple sport with rituals that go back to its Shinto roots.There is a shrine like roof above the ring or dohyo which is a 4.55metre diameter raised platform.The referees gyoji wear colorful outfits which have their origin in Shinto.Among the rituals is one where the wrestlers throw salt into the dohyo to purify it as part of their pre fight rituals.

In fact the pre fight rituals often last longer than the actual combat.After a few false starts which involve a crouching, staring match the wrestlers lunge forward attempting to push their opponent out of the ring.The object is simply to push the competition out or unbalance him so that some part of his body other than his feet touch the ground.
Pushing,shoving,thrusting,lifting and grabbing the opponents mawashi or loincloth often follows an unsucessful initial charge.There are over 40 different holds and throws recognised as being legal.
Its midway through the current competition.Although Asashroyu has one loss he is still in the running for a record eighth straight basho win and Emperors Cup victory.Kotooshu has two losses while Kokkai has three losses to date.
NHK screens the basho daily each afternoon.You`ll often see TVs in post offices,department stores and other public buildings tuned to it often surrounded by crowds of onlookers cheering their favourite on....

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