By Taro Iiyama
The sumo-jaya (sumo tea houses) [at Ryogoku Kokugikan] are in a quandary over U.S. President Donald Trump’s visit for the sumo tournament. They are grumbling: “We won’t be able to serve tea even though we’re tea houses!”
The sumo-jaya are commissioned by the Nihon Sumo Kyokai [which oversees the sport of sumo] with the sale of some of the tournament tickets, and they sell food, beverages, and souvenirs to the spectators they sell tickets to. They also serve them tea at the stadium throughout the day. It is a familiar sight to see tea house employees known as dekata clad in their traditional costumes and weaving their way through the masu-seki seating area holding trays laden with teapots and cups.
The teapots and cups are seen as a problem because they are breakable, and broken pots and cups could be used as weapons. For this reason, on the final day of the tournament the dekata will not be able to bring the tea into the seating area as they usually do. This is also the case for bottled beer and wine. A rumor is circulating among the sumo-jaya that “it seems that the U.S. Secret Service will poise for action if they as much as hear the sound of something breaking!” It looks like sales of tea in plastic bottles will be permitted, but the sumo-jaya are dismayed: “I wonder if it is fair for us to charge over 100 yen for something that is usually free.”
President Trump plans to watch the action from a first-floor seat on the northern side of the ring, and some 1,000 seats in that area on the final day of the tournament are not being sold. The seats not being put up for sale are some of the seats in the six rows closest to ring and most of the masu seats [1.3 square meter box seats where spectators sit on cushions on the floor]. These seats cost from 9,500 to 14,800 yen per person, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the sumo-jaya. It is estimated that more than 10 million yen worth of seats are not being put up for sale.
“This could be avoided if he would watch the bouts from the one of the second-floor seats reserved for distinguished guests . . .,” said a sumo-jaya worker. “I hope President Trump at least becomes a fan of sumo.”