Despite sluggish attendance, Kyushu Basho boasts overwhelming charm

In regular instances, half of sumo’s annual grand tournaments happen exterior of Tokyo.

March, July, and November often see all thousand or so members of the Japan Sumo Affiliation decamp to Osaka, Nagoya and Fukuoka, respectively, for meets in these cities.

Numerous coronavirus-related restrictions and anti-infection tips put a halt to these travels in 2020, however since July of this yr, the nation’s nationwide sport has returned to its common schedule.

In consequence, for the primary time since simply after 2019’s Rugby World Cup, sumo can be again on the southernmost of Japan’s 4 important islands starting Sunday.

Regional tournaments have a really completely different taste from these within the capital. Every has its personal charms and causes to be advisable, however the yr’s last meet in Fukuoka is sort of universally thought-about to be the perfect general expertise for each followers and wrestlers.

Whereas nowhere in Japan is much from the ocean, most sumo venues are positioned within the heart of enormous city sprawls, with docks and shipyards overlaying all waterfront areas.

Conversely, Fukuoka Kokusai Heart — which hosts the November event — is kind of actually a stone’s throw from Hakata Bay. With a number of seashores inside strolling distance and a six-kilometer-long tombolo (sandy outcrop into the ocean) only a quick ferry hop away, the Kyushu Basho’s location is definitely essentially the most nice and picturesque of the yr.

With many stables selecting lodging alongside the coast at some point of their time in southern Japan, rikishi have quite a few alternatives to chill out on the seashore and even go fishing after a tough day of coaching and competing. Sumo is a bodily grueling sport, and its fortnight-long meets are notoriously taxing on the thoughts. The stress-relieving side of the November event’s location for its contributors can’t be overstated.

The region's mild weather allows wrestlers to train outdoors ahead of the Kyushu Basho. | KYODO
The area’s delicate climate permits wrestlers to coach outdoor forward of the Kyushu Basho. | KYODO

For followers touring to Fukuoka, the compact nature of town — and the placement of each a bullet practice station and an airport inside a ten-minute practice trip of the venue — makes every little thing simpler, eradicating the time pressures that early begins and late finishes typically placed on journey plans at different tournaments.

Fukuoka is broadly thought-about to be one of many important culinary facilities of Japan, and the array of fine meals on supply mixed with the usually delicate November climate additionally contribute to the Kyushu event’s widespread recognition within the sumo world.

The fondness the meet generates is vital, as Fukuoka, partly attributable to its smaller dimension, has lengthy fallen behind in each ticket gross sales and help for wrestlers that aren’t from the area. In consequence, there have been quite a few calls over the many years to maneuver the meet out of the prefecture and place it someplace with a extra substantial fan base.

Whereas calling a metropolitan space house to five.5 million folks “small” could seem unusual, that’s half as many as reside within the larger Nagoya space, and 1 / 4 of the quantity in Kansai — the 2 different regional host places. Fukuoka’s inhabitants can be dwarfed by the practically 38 million folks that dwell in Tokyo and its environment — a location that hardly ever has bother promoting out tournaments.

Even so, and even if Kyushu was historically one of many important sources of robust wrestlers, poor attendance on the Fukuoka meets has lengthy been a trigger for concern.

Disappointingly, a two-year absence and a restricted variety of seats accessible this outing hasn’t led to the heavier demand that was anticipated. 5 days earlier than the motion will get underway in Kyushu, tickets of all classifications have been accessible for 14 of the 15 days, with solely the ultimate day seeing robust demand and sure sections promoting out.

It hasn’t all the time been this fashion. Within the late 2000s, a packed Fukuoka Kokusai Heart thundered with rhythmic clapping and un-sumo-like chants of “Kaio, Kaio” — proof that Kyushu followers can rival these anyplace after they have an area hero to cheer for.

Nevertheless, the falloff in curiosity when no native hero exists is dramatic. Over a lot of the previous decade, rows and rows of empty seats — even in fascinating sections near the ring — have been very noticeable on TV and stood in distinction to full homes elsewhere.

It’s by no means been a great look, however in equity to supporters in Fukuoka it’s been a very long time since Kyushu had a dominant native rikishi that town may get behind.

Even within the aforementioned Kaio’s heyday, the ozeki’s exploits have been largely a subplot to rising Mongolian dominance.

Hakuho (left) and Tokitsukaze stablemate Oyanagi (now Yutakayama) spar ahead of the 2016 Kyushu Basho in Shime, Fukuoka Prefecture. | KYODO
Hakuho (left) and Tokitsukaze stablemate Oyanagi (now Yutakayama) spar forward of the 2016 Kyushu Basho in Shime, Fukuoka Prefecture. | KYODO

Takakeisho’s Emperor’s Cup wins in Fukuoka in 2018 and 2020 have been the primary Kyushu Basho titles to not go to a Mongolian yokozuna since 2003. In truth, Tochiazuma’s win that yr is the one different championship in Fukuoka received by a native-born Japanese rikishi this millennium. The ultimate event of the yr hasn’t simply been a barren one for Kyushu locals in latest instances, it’s been a graveyard for the desires of nearly all home hopefuls because the time when Google was merely a tiny tech startup.

From Kisenosato’s ending of Hakuho’s 63-bout successful streak — a combat the just lately retired yokozuna mentioned was some of the memorable of his profession — to Paul McCartney sitting ringside and sponsoring prize-money banners, Kyushu has been the house of some memorable scenes lately.

The Fukuoka basho is value maintaining for its uniqueness alone, however in a quickly altering sporting panorama, monetary realities proceed to exert an growing quantity of affect. If seats stay empty within the Fukuoka Kokusai Heart post-COVID-19, requires a relocation of the November meet can be heard once more.

But in an attention-grabbing twist, the bottom rank in sumo’s high tier — which has produced two shock champions just lately — is occupied this outing by the only Fukuoka native within the division. Have been Shohozan to make it a 3rd shock maegashira 17-title win because the begin of 2020, he would offer the enhance to sumo in Kyushu that it desperately wants.

Fingers crossed.

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