Ryogoku: Home Of Sumo A Place To See And Feel The Energy

Ryogoku: Home of sumo a place to see and feel the energy“Hakki yoi … nokotta, nokotta,” a guy connected to the Japan Sumo Association said in an animated voice as we were shooting the breeze.
Not sure I heard him right, I repeated, “hakki yoi?” I thought it was “hakke yoi.” It turns out he was right. (Duh--he’s with the official association.) Hakki yoi comes from the four-character Japanese "hakki yohyoh," which roughly translates to “spark energy.”

Today we’ll visit Ryogoku, often synonymous with Ryogoku Kokugikan, the nation’s most famous sumo venue.

My first visit at a sumo tournament many years ago surprised me as it was an experience unlike any other.

How can I put this--I felt it was like a miniature version of Tokyo: In the middle is the Imperial Palace, a core sacred place that’s surrounded by local townships with people going about their daily lives.

In the same way, the middle of the Kokugikan is a sacred ring with wrestlers engaged in Shinto activities, and this center is surrounded by groups of people eating, talking and not always focused on the spiritual core of the place, the sumo ring.

I had imagined a polite, orderly audience quietly focused on the bouts. Instead, people were partying in small groups, occasionally shifting their focus to the center ring. It was only during the final matches of the day that everyone’s attention locked in on the dohyo. This “energy dance” was fascinating to watch and feel.

The name Ryogoku means “both provinces.” There used to be two provinces, Musashi no Kuni and Shimousa no Kuni, which were separated by the Sumidagawa river. In 1659, a bridge was built that linked the two, and the area became known as Ryogoku.

Some names are so confusing! The Sumidagawa river is a section of the Arakawa river, and many older folks call the river "Ookawa," or Big River (as do rakugo artists when telling Edo tales).

The kanji for the Sumidagawa river and Sumida Ward are slightly different, and the area around the sumo hall is called "Yokoami," which looks like yokozuna. It took my brain a while to come to grips with the "chanko-nabe" (a famous sumo cuisine containing various ingredients) of names in this area!

A few minutes’ walk from the hustle and bustle of the sumo hall is the Former Yasuda Garden. Unlike a stone zen garden attached to a temple where you sit and meditate, this is a strolling-style garden.

The garden has a "shinji ike," a pond in the shape of the kanji for heart, "kokoro," which cannot be seen in its entirety from any one spot. When the garden was created, the pond’s water level rose and fell with the tidal variations of the Sumidagawa river. Today it’s done artificially.

Seeing children delighting in the turtles, fish and birds at the garden made me smile.

Behind the Former Yasuda Garden, inside Yokoamicho Park, is the Tokyo Metropolitan Hall of Repose. It was originally built as a place of remembrance for 58,000 people who died in the Great Kanto Earthquake on Sept. 1, 1923. Many buildings collapsed, and the ruins were then engulfed by large fires that broke out following the earthquake. After World War II, victims of the fire bombings of Tokyo were added. Next to a memorial hall and museum in the park is a wall of flowers with the names of more than 100,000 people who perished. Many people visit the Edo Tokyo Museum nearby, but few seem to come here.

It’s a somber place, but important to see and be reminded of how good we have it now. I hope the “nokotta” (remaining) people, people fortunate to be living here and now, visit Ryogoku for a day of seeing and feeling.