By Shuji Miki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterGrand sumo tournaments have been held six times a year since 1958, when the Nagoya basho was upgraded from a “quasi tournament.” Nagoya’s ability to steadily draw spectators was believed to be behind the promotion.
On top of the three tournaments held in Tokyo in January, May and September, there is the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka in March, the Kyushu tournament in Fukuoka in November, and the Nagoya tournament in July. This is the 61st year of six tournaments being held annually.
The Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium in the Ni-no-Maru area of Nagoya Castle became the venue for the tournament seven years after the Nagoya basho began. Wrestlers and spectators manage to endure the sweltering mid-summer heat through the judicious use of air conditioning.
The Nagoya basho was initially held at the Kanayama Gymnasium in Nagoya, which was once an airplane hangar. It had space for about 9,000 people but no air conditioning. The atmosphere was like a steam bath, earning the basho the nicknames “tropical tournament” and “south seas tournament.” Watching giant rikishi square off in such an environment must have taken its toll on the audience.
Back then, pillars of ice and the release of oxygen were how audiences kept cool. Stands containing ice pillars about 1 meter high were placed at the entrances of the four paths wrestlers used to enter the dohyo. The pillars were installed in the morning but were gone by the start of makuuchi division bouts because attendants would shave off ice and give it to wrestlers to eat or rub on themselves to cool down.
Meanwhile, oxygen was supplied to the venue before wrestlers entered the dohyo and after the first half of makuuchi division bouts.
The ice and oxygen might have been merely a placebo. In any event, it’s hard to call today’s Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium a cool, comfortable place to watch sumo. If you switch on the TV during the summer grand tournament, you’re sure to find a sea of uchiwa fans fluttering in the audience. Muggy Nagoya is tough for both wrestlers and fans.