More ways than one to get that bread.

Seated in the heart of Tokyo is Ryogoku Sumo Hall, Japan’s largest venue for the traditional Japanese sport of sumo wrestling. While the arena is most well-known for hosting the nation’s jazzed up tournaments, it’s also a special home to a pop-up bakery opened up by former sumo champion Onokuni Yasushi, who once competed within its esteemed grounds. And one of our very determined reporters, Ikuna Kamezawa, never one to miss out on an unique experience, had set her heart on trying all of the bakery’s goods.

On a sunny mid-morning with clear skies, Ikuna arrived at the stadium, greeted by the sight of colorful banners waving outside. A mixture of excitement and anticipation bubbled up within her—what could this supposedly delicious bread taste like and would she be able to buy every type of bread offered by the bakery?

Entering the Ryogoku Sumo Hall, one of the first things that caught our reporter’s eye was a poster for the bakery. Emblazoned on its front was the baker Onokuni himself and a slogan in bold print: “There’s nothing wrong if a man has a sweet tooth!”

Noting the 500 yen (US$4.58) price point per bread roll and how there were only three varieties to choose from, “Yokozuna Toast,” “Maple Loaf, and “Azuki Red Bean Loaf,” Ikuna’s excitement increased twice-fold. Delicious bread personally baked by a sumo champion! Our reporter knew she needed to try this bread.

Ikuna examined the hall, and though she was more than ready to purchase this bread, bakery workers were still setting up temporary shop. Figuring that she had plenty of time to spare before the pop-up bakery opened at noon, Ikuna decided to use the washroom first, although when she came back…

a long line had already formed!

Panic struck our reporter—it was only 16 minutes past noon and the line seemed to snake all the way down the hall. A ticketing system was in place with a bakery worker going down the line, confirming people’s purchases and handing out tickets for the bread. Ikuna rushed to the line’s end and before she could start the internal, mental ping-pong battle of whether it would have been better to use the washroom afterwards, a bakery worker reached her and Ikuna had to suppress a yell of joy for she was able to buy all three of the bakery’s bread loaves.

▼ No bread shall go un-taste-tested here!

However, there was no time to relax. As Ikuna slowly approached the line’s front, she couldn’t help but notice the bread arranged neatly in gray containers, and how thick each bread roll was. Rather than bread, the baked goods seemed more like cake or manju.

▼ Another view of the pop-up bakery from the Japan Sumo Association itself.

When it became her turn to trade her tickets for bread, the most nerve-wracking part had come: receiving the freshly baked rolls from Onokuni himself. There was something disarming about seeing a former sumo champion in a baker’s apron, and Ikuna thought perhaps this temporary shop in the Ryogoku Sumo Hall was the most nerve-wracking bakery in the world. She had to restrain herself from scrambling away immediately after getting her purchase of bread, and her heart raced in her ears as she hurried home for the taste test.

▼ Is this how people feel after having a great pull in a gacha game?

Setting the purchased bread side-by-side, Ikuna compared the loaves. The Maple Loaf and the Adzuki Red Bean Loaf were roll-like, whereas the Yokozuna Toast had a more familiar shape. Imprinted onto the Yokozuna Toast’s front was a tsuna, or a heavy strand of rope typically worn by sumo wrestlers who achieve yokozuna status, which is the highest rank in the world of sumo.

With the bread now obtained, one would think perhaps the first action Ikuna would take is to try a morsel of each loaf, but she had other plans in mind. Wondering why her arms had hurt so much carrying the bread home, our reporter whipped out her handy portable scale and weighed each loaf, receiving a shocking revelation.

▼ The Yokozuna Toast at 343 grams (0.76 pounds)…

▼ … the Maple Loaf at a slightly heavier 376 grams (0.83 pounds)…

▼ … and the Adzuki Red Bean Loaf weighing a whooping 553 grams (1.22 pounds).

Rather than bread, Ikuna felt she had bought bludgeons of carb instead, and she had to especially resist the amusing thought of brandishing the Adzuki Red Bean Loaf as a weapon. After all, who has time to eat a pound of bread when you could use it to defend yourself?

▼ I know it’s not the same, but why does this remind me of canned bread?

Having no plans to eat a whole bread roll by herself, however, Ikuna proceeded to cut chunky slices from each loaf for taste-testing. Taking a piece from the Maple Loaf first, its sweet and fragrant aroma reminded Ikuna of the caramel sold at Disneyland. Our reporter placed the slice of Maple Loaf aside to cut into the Yokozuna Toast, and while she had no reservation eating the crust stamped with the tsuna first, she wouldn’t be surprised if a sumo fan somewhere in the world would choose to preserve the crust instead and dry it out as a crumbly keepsake.

Last but not least, Ikuna sawed through the incredibly hefty Adzuki Red Bean Loaf, only to pause and gawk at the amount of red bean stuffed into the bread. She had heard rumors online of the bakery’s “Red Diamond,” but to see it in-person was a whole different experience. Our reporter reckoned that if her own grandparents saw the generous helping of red bean inside, they’d probably faint.

▼ Red beans—the supposed energy king of legumes.

After toasting her test slices and pairing them with butter, Ikuna dug in and was immediately lulled into a sense of comfort and warmth. Each loaf was exquisite in flavor, and though a slight pang of guilt ran through Ikuna, because she probably bought way too much bread for a person living alone, the panic and the hustle earlier was 100-percent worth it.

Due to COVID-19, much of the sumo tournaments and their festivities have been canceled or postponed in both the past and current year, but sitting back and eating her bread, Ikuna felt she was enjoying an extension of sumo culture, and if a slice of tasty toast baked by a former sumo wrestler was enough to move her, maybe there’s still a good chance to encourage high schoolers to enter the ring and carry on the tradition.

Photos © SoraNews24
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