Sumo and Car Geeks in Nagoya

Another article in the OBT series.

When I convinced Diana to visit Japan on this trip, an immediate consideration was “can we see sumo?” We try to take in local sporting events wherever we go. I think we understand a culture better through their leisure habits, including sport. Sumo showed me that Japanese culture retains some primal aspects, in addition to the refined ones I frequently see.

Sumo! Sumo!

Six sumo tournaments occur throughout the year, each lasting 15 days. Luck was on our side to be able to attend during our visit. Tournaments are day long, with unranked wrestlers matching up, then intermediate, and finally senior division participants. A match is 1 round, the loser being declared when he steps out of the ring or something other than his foot touches the ground. A round can last 3 seconds to a few minutes, and fighting style includes shoving and slapping, which can get quite violent (I noticed a former wrestler in the foyer with a tell-tale cauliflower ear). I really enjoyed the spectacle and would go again, although a Japanese baseball game is higher on my list for a return visit. Tickets for the final round (which we caught) are very hard to come by; plan in advance.

The view from the tatami twin box seats
Three seconds to “Buh Bye”

Letting Out My Inner Car Geek

Seeing sumo brought us to Nagoya, a place we probably would not have gone to otherwise. Learning Toyota is headquartered near Nagoya was an unexpected bonus. Since we had a spare afternoon, we chose to take in the Toyota Commemorative Museum, one of two Toyota museums in the area. The other museum is dedicated to a collection of classic cars from a variety of vendors.

The Toyota Commemorative Museum traces the history and developments of the company. Toyoda, with a “d”, was founded as a manufacturer of automatic looms for the textile industry in 1907 by Sakichi Toyoda. The Toyota car company was started by his son, Kiichiro, after a tour of the US in 1921. While abroad, he saw the burgeoning auto industry as an opportunity back home. Toyota, with a “t”, was named via a local contest when it was decided it needed to be distinguished from the textile concern. Even today, the textile equipment manufacturing company continues growing, alongside 30+ other companies either tracing back roots to the founder or acquired along the way.

Many working machines are on display

Half of the museum is dedicated to textiles and the other half is automotive and more. What makes this museum great is the many working machines they have on display. All of these well-oiled, up to 60 years old, machines work like well-oiled machines. Dozens of docents were around, demonstrating or running the relics.

A docent shows how loose cotton can be made into strong thread

Every aspect of both industries is covered from the beginning to now. Great detail is presented on turning cotton to thread, weaving hand towels and sheets, as well as braking systems, automatic transmissions, headlights, body frame painting, etc. Another highlight is the violin playing robot, which first performed at the World Exhibition in Shanghai in 2010 to large crowds, many of whom waited 6+ hours for the short show.

The style was a bit mechanical compared to others I have heard. #DadJoke

Overall, I recommend a day trip via a 100-minute bullet train from Tokyo to visit this fantastic museum, unless you manage to coordinate with a sumo tourney. I would consider another visit, myself.

Which science/industry museums do think are worth a special trip?


  1. Thanks for the info on Sumo, I didn’t know anything about it till now. The first time I saw anything Sumo was in a James Bond movie. As for Toyota, I knew the founders had a “d” in their name but little else. I know Yamaha started making furniture, went to musical instruments, then started making engines. I figured Toyota started making something else as well, I just didn’t know what that was.

    • The car company struggled from inception in the early 1930s to the early 60s, FYI.

  2. So jealous that you were able to see sumo wrestlers in Japan! We were there last fall and nothing was going on at that time. Very disappointed!
    If you are still in Tokyo, be sure to find the art supply store called Pigment. Here is an excerpt of their website:
    “Pigment Tokyo has over 4,200 types of colour pigments made from natural minerals and raw materials. They focus on the best art supplies and material manufacturing methods passed down through generations of Japanese art culture. Pigment Tokyo is located in Tennozu Isle.” It’s open quite late in the evening, which is when we visited.

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