There is something deeply spiritual about sumo. I love that Hakuho’s belt and lightning bolts evoke the ones you see tied around Shinto shrine trees. Maybe the gods enjoy hanging out with the sumo players, as much as with the micro- green spaces by the shrines.
From the super creepy music at the opening, this “hidden camera” view of secret Mormon rituals is superb. I admit I got bored in the middle of the 7 minute clip, but perked up at the end to learn about secret handshakes with God through a veil, which looked like nothing more than a series of glory holes shrouded in white linen. Thanks, Eric the fez for the link.
The sumo match itself rarely lasts more than a minute, and the rules seem simple. You win by pushing the other guy out of the circle. But there’s so much ritual before the shoving and grunting even begin. I like how they all come out together in special fancy aprons and raise their arms together. I am unclear whether it’s a spiritual or sexual act, but it’s hard not to stare.
The champion Hakuho also does some extra balancing and arm-raising, while wearing a special rope decoration. I like how the sumo champion is dressed up almost like a Shinto sacred tree. Even without knowing the specifics, it’s clear that he is invoking vast forces and unseen spirits.
The opponents face off several times and then go to their corners before starting the match. I like when they toss salt up into the air, which seems to purify and make the fighting space more exalted.
And finally, I love the intensity of their faces and bodies before the match begins. These big boys sure can squat low, and it’s exciting to anticipate the fearsome power they create out of their own body weight.
Attending in person has changed my impression about sumo. It’s a parallel universe of enormous men who wear lovely colored kimono in public and ass-baring costumes in the ring. The sumo performers conduct strange rituals under Shinto banners that last far longer than the fights themselves, and their extended careers create fascinating rivalries. Oh, and it’s a sport that’s open to large men from many countries, including Mongolia and East Europe.
I love watching the sumo players moving through Tokyo and, of course, arriving at the sumo hall by taxi. I also like how the station near the hall memorializes decades of personalities, outfits, and flesh.
My interest in Shinto practice continues to deepen. I love a religion that brings the rice harvest to the city, and instructs men to go pants-less in public. Certainly there are many particularities I am still unfamiliar with. The repetitive flute and metal percussion music puts me in a trance, and opens me to the possibility that these gods inhabit my neighborhood and are responsible for my daily meals. But ideas and concepts would be nothing without the flagrant masochism and exhibitionism central to the rituals.
It’s like the Catholic Easter passion, but better because of its multiplicity. There is more than one suffering man, and more than one god. If this is pagan, I am unable to resist. I will ask the gods this year to decontaminate the rice harvest.
Sublime and random Tokyo gay stories in August:
1. A gay Italian visitor to Tokyo is *shocked* at the sight of Japanese men using paper fans to cool themselves on trains and sidewalks. “In Italy, only women and fags dare use a fan.” There is nothing more satisfying than observing an Italian man surprised by another nation’s male effeminacy.
2. My new super-gay hairdresser (rare in a country where most are straight) has recently told me about his working the festival circuit with his yakuza friends carrying a portable shrine shoulder to shoulder and dressed in fundoshi (ritual male thongs), his earlier stint at a Ginza hair salon when he cut the hair of minor royals, and advice about yankii and nudist beachs in Chiba.
A few years younger than this author, my new gay Japanese sensei is also a middle-aged competitive body builder, with distinct orange in his hair and skin tone. Did I mention that we met at Haguromo, the super-gay and sometimes yakuza-filled sento? How often can I get my short hair cut? He’s talented with hair and full of helpful stories and expressions.
3. I’ve heard that many Japanese prefer “small faces.” Just recently, a Japanese friend explained that Japanese distinguish between weak faces (うすい、薄い）and strong faces（こい、濃い). Previously I understand that these adjectives are applied to liquids like tea (literally, the concentration through quantity and steeping time) and even to food types (sort of like light and heavy).
Apparently with people, so-called weak faces have “fewer distinguishing features” or “fewer things sticking out.” Strong faces have deep set eyes, large noses, more prominent chins. This distinction is at once racial and yet pretends not to be. I have a hard time grokking this, but will be more open to hearing about these immutable differences.
Just so no one thinks Japan has a global monopoly on vulgar summer festivities, I am happy to show an American summer vulgarity crossed with this year’s start to the 2012 presidential race. At state fairs, like this one in Iowa, when Americans are not eating deep fried butter on a stick, they are often shoving corn dogs into their faces. Fittingly, in Japan corn dogs are referred to as “American dogs.” Combined with religious nuts, this is not only vulgar but also distasteful.
(Thanks to Ericthefez for assembling this pictorial).
I don’t fully understand why, but these men are celebrating their beloved water source and its miraculous return by throwing water on each other in winter. And, as its a sacred ritual, they are wearing almost no clothing. It’s called Yu kake matsuri (湯かけ祭り), which basically means water splashing festival. Thanks to the hubb for forwarding this video.
Summer is time for omatsuri, that curious blend of Shinto spirituality, yakuza food stalls, and major male thass. Generally Tokyo reserves the thass for ladies, but omatsuri is a special time for men to wear their festival coats with either fundoshi (a ritual jockstrap) or this tight white fabric that’s like a mini-skirt.
Needless to say, I find these male outfits bring me to a higher level of spirituality, compassion and awareness. As the weather warms up and the festivals spread throughout Tokyo, I am hoping to exceed last year‘s festival perving.
I love how nonchalant the men are despite revealing their thighs and the lower portions of their rears. The white, split-toe shoes and white socks only add to the “moe.”
I am not sure what the water is about, but it must certainly add to the masochism that Japanese are often fond of. Making this spiritual event all the more “moe,” only four men perform the ritual while everyone else watches them.
Next year in Hokkaido!