Sumo is nowhere near as popular as it once was. It presumably never will be either. But when there’s the very real possibility of a Japanese wrestler winning a tournament for the first time in 10 years, it can still garner a good deal of attention.
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Young sumo wrestlers photographed at a festival
From a personal point of view, sumo has quickly gone from a sport that I followed enthusiastically, to one that sadly I now pay very little attention to. The treatment and forced resignation of an admittedly controversial but at the same time colourful Grand Champion, and then the far more worrying revelations of match-fixing, have arguably made it a sport in the very loosest sense of the word, as well as one mired in small-mindedness and criminality.
Rather harsh criticism perhaps, but along with the aforementioned issues, and a complete lack of Japanese winners (let alone Yokozuna) for many years, has caused local fans to also turn their back on the sport, with ticket sales down and interest at an all-time low.
Yet despite this, and in 2007 the Japan Sumo Association suffering — for the first time in its history — a total lack of applicants from would-be Japanese wrestlers, there is still hope. Yes, it’ll never be able to compete with baseball and soccer in the coming years, but some youngsters are still interested, and if the passion and commitment of the kids pictured below is anything to go by, then sumo is very much alive and kicking.
Getting ready for their turn in the ring, the young lads in question waited patiently in order.
And although there may have been some nerves, there was also an awful lot of fun to be had while watching the other bouts.
But, when it came down to business, there was no more silliness — none whatsoever.
Instead they fought hard.
Until there was a fall.
Making it an event that was competitive, fun and controversy free, as well as a spectacle for all the right reasons. Something those running the sport could do with recapturing – quickly.
Sumo’s autumn tournament has just recently finished in Tokyo, with Mongolian Yokozuna Asashoryu winning with a hugely impressive and almost effortless record of 14 wins and 1 defeat; silencing his many critics with a dominant, and thankfully almost controversy free, display.
Yet as regular as the wrestlers look in the ring, whether it be live or from the living room, out in the real world and mingling with the masses, they still sort of fit in,
but yet at the same time rather fascinatingly don’t.
Especially so considering the strict controls over their clobber.
Along with not only their heft, but more often than not, height.
And, for the higher ranked rikishi at least, their hairstyles.
All of which, despite the sport’s worryingly waining popularity among the nation’s youth, still makes them mesmerising to many.
Mask or no mask.
Having just returned from my summer hiatus in the homeland, it’s rather surprising to find that an admittedly not particularly good but fairly prominent poster campaign by HSBC, is bothering some of the more sensitive members of Britain’s Japanese community.
A problem that has even prompted Godfrey King, director of the Anglo-Japanese Society of Wessex, to provisionally peek out from his posterior and claim that the ad has, â€œInsulted the honour of a nation. The fact that the picture depicts a sumo wrestler who is not actually a sumo wrestler but has been made up to look like one would be considered a high insult to the Japanese community.â€
A comment that it has to be said could well be seen as somewhat on the sensitive side.
Happen even hypocritical.
Sumo give away #4
With the summer sumo tournament currently huffing and puffing its way to a close, it seems the perfect time to once again give away a few more banzuke.
Due to the resounding success of the bang-out-a-haiku-for-a-banzuke approach adopted back in March, the format will remain the same this time too. Also, topic wise there are no restrictions again — so whether your effort is humorous or even heartfelt, just stick to the format and you’ll be in with a chance*.
Is five, followed by seven
Then five to finish
Finally, as a bit of inspiration — and an excuse to once again show off a rare decent-ish photo — is a picture of Toki and his phenomenal facial hair.
(click image for super-sized sideburns)
*Winners will be announced (and contacted by email) on August 20th, as I’m on holiday until then. Tokyo Times however will continue to be updated due to a backlog of mildly interesting pictures and the fantastic invention of ‘future posting’.
Sumo give away #3
Due to a rather convoluted link to the sumo world, I have once again managed to bag a few spare banzuke, this time from the fairly recent New Year tournament. Keeping one for myself, it leaves me with two that I’m willing to post off to Tokyo Times readers — irrespective of where they happen to reside.
This particular banzuke (pictured above) has unique historic value as it records Bulgarian Kotooshu’s promotion to Ozeki — sumo’s second highest rank; an achievement that is set to feature prominently in the sport’s record books, with the tall and athletic wrestler becoming the first European to reach such dizzy heights.
Being good-looking (and foreign), the quiet and unassuming Kotooshu is often referred to as the ‘Beckham’ of sumo, although due to my seating position I couldn’t really capture this aspect of the man — a clear shot of his ‘attractive’ back and side being the best I could muster.
For those interested, leave a comment below, and the two that interest or amuse me the most will receive a banzuke. Given sumo’s traditional nature however, all comments should be made in the form of a haiku, which if nothing else will help give proceedings the air of a real competition — or at least a dodgy fairground tombola.
It’s five, followed by seven
Then five to finish
Good luck to you all
I hope you can do better
Than this poor effort