World Cup diary: Sumo wrestlers are still Japan's heavyweights while local wedding proved poor stand-in for Scotland presser
Having travelled all the way to Tokyo to see large men pushing each other around in the name of sport, it seemed only right that the wait for some rugby was filled with a trip to the Autumn Grand Sumo tournament.
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The Aki honbasho at the Ryogoku Kokugikan has been dominating the sports pages all week even as excitement for the World Cup steadily built ahead of Friday’s first game. Japan’s national sport, it’s the rikishi who are the real stars as fans line the street at the entrance to the dohyo even though the sold-out signs have long been up.
When inside, there’s the bustle of a market as stalls sell literally anything they can print a wrestler’s face on as well as food and drink. I’m not sure if pre-match rice will replace the traditional burger and chips, but it’s always good to try and do as the locals do.
Having wisely opted for the cheap seats given that the box option is actually just a mat on the floor where you sit cross-legged, the decision is vindicated twice over when early on the sizeable frame of one fallen competitor is hurled over the photographers and into the fans.
After seeing Jacob Stockdale’s video of one wrestler back-flipping during the Ireland team’s visit to a local training stable, the agility on display in the senior division shouldn’t have come as a surprise but, as someone who has made using chopsticks look an ordeal throughout this week, the co-ordination is something to behold close up.
There’s something of a scrum before they remove the hit to some of the bouts as the wrestler who gets the early drive puts his opposition on rollerskates but in others it’s footwork that wins the day.
Those who seem to know what they’re watching take much delight from those occasions when a quick sidestep leads to an opponent belly-flopping into the sand.
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Grand champion Kakuryu was absent through injury but the locals seemed delighted with Takakeisho’s victory in the third from last bout of the day.
A quick Google and it turns out that the overnight leader had also secured himself a promotion to Ozeki level after an injury-plagued season.
Flags wave and the once reserved crowd yell as he returns for the closing ceremony. The huge passion is clear.
It’s proven popular with visitors as well. I wasn’t the only one with the idea to go on Thursday... the entire Scotland team was there too.
Kiwi legend Richie brings the firworks
The opening ceremony was typically spectacular, including a flyover from Japan’s Blue Impulse and fireworks.
The biggest cheer came though when New Zealand hero Richie McCaw emerged from behind a rendering of Mount Fuji holding the Webb Ellis trophy. I’m sure there was an Australian somewhere quipping that it was a surprise not to see him come round from the side.
Hitting brick wall in search for Scots hotel
Arriving on a downday for the Ireland team, my options were thus...catch up on the sleep missed on the overnight flight and try to kick the jetlag, explore some of Tokyo, or get out there and see what was happening with the other teams.
I opted for the latter and set off for the Scotland team hotel to check in on their Press conference.
Or at, least, what the media guide told me was the Scotland hotel. Having given myself an hour for what Google termed a 10-minute walk, I thought maybe I was the first arrival.
But, using my investigative journalist skills, when they started to set the room up for a wedding it was clear I was in the wrong place. Having found out that the team hotel was actually close to the one in the misprinted guide, I made a mad dash only to be thwarted by the mapped route taking me right up to a 12ft wall that blocked the way.
Having had to go the long way round, the sight of Greig Laidlaw and Stuart Hogg told me I’d finally made it...and missed the presser. Good to get these things out of the way early.
What do you mean you forgot the baby oil?
The conditions in Japan are certainly different. Arriving into Tokyo on Wednesday there was pouring rain that didn’t stop for hours on end. Similar enough to home says you? Not quite. It was also 30-odd degrees at the time.
To adjust, some teams have been trying some unusual techniques on the training paddock with Scotland and Wales dousing the ball in shampoo and baby oil respectively before running through plays to try and replicate the slippery conditions the humidity may bring.
It did at least raise a laugh at All Blacks’ coach Steve Hansen’s next media engagement.
“Warren Gatland has been putting baby oil on his balls...I mean, rugby balls,” a Kiwi journalist began his opening question.
Rory Best has summit big on his mind
There's been some long journeys and plenty of down time between training sessions for the Irish squad this week.
The players were quick to suss out the best coffee shops in both Chiba and Yokohama, which leaves a good opportunity for Netflix and reading.
Skipper Rory Best (right) recently finished the Netflix series The Dawn Wall showing the efforts of two Americans to scale the rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Ireland’s El Capitan has a book about K2 to keep him busy. Must have something about climbing mountains on his mind.
Dubs' five alive oh
After a week in Japan, Ireland players have mostly kicked the jet lag but the time difference has thrown up the odd obstacle.
With the GAA All-Ireland replay last week being played at 2am Japanese time, professional athletes that they are, sleep had to take priority.
When media, more willing to sacrifice a few hours of kip, asked when the squad had heard about Dublin’s five in a row, it turned out that at that very moment players who had managed to avoid the score were watching it “as-live” in the team room.
Coles covers up
With the World Cup on Asian soil for the first time, it’s definitely a different press pack to the one we usually have covering these teams throughout the year.
All Blacks hooker Dane Coles was among the first to get a left-field question — asked to explain the Maori tattoos that cover his arms.
Detailing their meaning to his family and culture, he revealed that he had covered them up as a mark of respect to local customs when visiting the thermal Onsen baths.
Japanese people still link such ink to the Yakuza... their version of the mob!
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