Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hash Pipe

So... what do you think of when you when you think about Japan? Rice? Lots of countries have rice. Geisha? Not as common in Japan as you might think - at least not by 1990. I never saw a real geisha until almost a year later! Kimonos? Sure, I suppose, but it was worn for special events only. Mount Fuji? Honestly, I never saw it in three years there thanks to conveniently placed weather patterns (rain, snow, fog, cloud). I'm still not convinced it actually exists.

What do you like sumo? O-sumo (add the word "o" to make a Japanese subject more honourific) wrestling to me, epitomizes Japanese culture. It's male dominated, to be sure, but watching a bunch of fat guys in diapers go through a five minute salt-throwing ceremony before exploding into a three-second battle - now that's Japan.
I never got to see an official tournament in person, though my buddy Matthew was lucky enough to take in one day of the 15-day tournaments in Tokyo. Matthew was nice enough to present me with a lot of omiyage (souvenir presents) that I treasure. 
One such sumo souvenir is the photo above depicting the wrestling program for the Autumn 1993 sumo Basho (tournament). 
Your eyes don't deceive you - despite being immensely difficult to read because I can't read Japanese, it's also has notoriously small lettering - especially as you drift down the sheet. 
At the top it lists the top division of sumo wrestlers, then the next division, the third and finally the fourth division with sumo wrestling names written out in the size of a grain of rice. See? Totally Japanese.

And, if you look close at the photo to the side, I have actually placed a grain of cooked white rice on the sheet at  the bottom so you can see how insanely small the writing is on the sumo sheet.  
Perhaps because I was a foreigner in a foreign land, I instantly gravitated towards cheering for the foreign sumo wrestlers who were in the upper echelon of the sumo ranks. Guys like the famous Konishiki, whom I had heard of back in Toronto. He is a Hawaiian (of Japanese-Samoan descent) and was known as being the heaviest sumo wrestler ever peaking at a whopping 287 kilograms (630 lbs). You can read about him here - BIGU.
He reached the level of Ozeki, the second highest rank of sumo wrestler and was the first foreigner to run his own sumo stable - yes, they call a sumo training school a stable (in Japanese it's called a heya). 
Akebono, another Hawaiian, was the tallest modern-day sumo wrestler at 2.03 meters (6'-8") and weighed in at 225 kilograms (500 lbs). In January of 1993, he became the first ever foreign-born wrestler to reach sumo's highest rank -Yokozuna. You can read more about the big guy TALL .
And, my personal favourite, Musashimaru, who looked to me the best square shape a sumo should have. He is a Samoan, and was the second foreign-born wrestler to achieve the rank of Yokozuna. The first time I saw him in the high classes of sumo, I thought to myself, this guy is going to become a Yokozuna, and he did on May 1999 - unfortunately, I never got to see him do that. My main man stood 1.92 meters (6'-3.5") tall and was 235 kilograms (520 lbs). More information about him is SQUARE .
When I first started watching sumo, the best and most popular wrestler was the Japanese Yokozuna Chiyonofuji, who won 31 tournament championships until retiring in 1991. The ceremonial cutting of his top-knot (chonmage - see HAIR ) did not leave a dry eye in the house. More on Chiyonofuji can be found CRY .

For your viewing pleasure click on OHTAWARA for a peek at Musashimaru and his heya visiting Ohtawara in 1993 for a promotional event. These are some pix I took that day - having discovered the event by accident while riding around town lost. At  the event, Japanese wrestling great Antonio Inoki is also present - he was the "other" type of wrestler and was once the WWF (now WWE) heavyweight wrestling champ - you can read about him here PIN .  

What is sumo? It's a wrestling event done within a clay circle whereby the goal is to knock your opponent out of the circle or cause him to touch any part of his body (excluding the soles of his feet) to the ground.
The sport is centuries old, and still utilizes a salt purification ceremony whereby each wrestler tosses salt up into the air - it's from the days when sumo was used in the Shinto religion. A lot of the ceremony is also to show your opponent that you are not armed with a weapon (and is done via leg lifts and palm-up movements.   
To create the amazing sumo wrestling girth, these guys do the opposite of what you and I might do to lose weight (I'm not that successful at it, mind you). 
They skip breakfast and eat copious quantities later in the day, and when they aren't training, they rest a lot. They eat before going to bed. Their singular meal of choice is called chanko, which is pretty much a stew made from every type of meat and vegetable and noodle you can get your hands on. Everyday, several times a day. They also also guzzle beer. Liters of it everyday. I'm guessing it wasn't a light beer.
As for exercising, I asked Musashimaru at the Ohtawara event about one of his least favourite training techniques. He told he it was one that made the hand hard for slapping purposes. Now before you think that that's kind of a sissy way of wrestling, let me tell you how they toughen up the hands.
For an hour or more at a time, they push the hands away from their body to slap a concrete post directly in front of them, one hand at a time. Whack. Whack. Whack. Sixty plus minutes at a time. Think calluses from the guitar are a pain? Try smacking a concrete pole everyday. Try it for a minute and see if you can do that. Go on. I'll wait.
As for slapping as a sumo technique... imagine you are standing six feet away from your opponent and you rush him hoping to get a good grip on his costume (called a mawashi - see HERE) to push him out of the ring... Now imagine that as you near him a hand built from smacking concrete comes up to slap you in the face. I've watched 300 lb men go down in a lump of quivery goo from the concussive force. 
I felt humbled that Musashimaru did not crush my hand into a pulpy mango when he shook my hand.
There are hundreds of books written on the subject of sumo (I have a couple), but let me just say this... should you ever go to Japan, be like Matthew and see a sumo wrestling event live in person. Now that would be - in 1960s vernacular, really heavy, man. 

Somewhere someone tossed salt in my eyes, 
Andrew Joseph
Today's title is by Weezer whose video employed sumo wrestlers - SEE 
PS - Should you be so inclined, I have found a few sumo matches you can watch. Keep in mind most of these guys are in the 300 lb range and are around 6-feet tall. The grace and agility of these guys (though Konishiki did not possess any agility) is truly amazing. 
Check it OUT, and see HERE - which shows some of the pomp and ceremony, HERE is a good slap knockdown, and HERE is a good one that explains sumo
PPS - Sumo is currently a hot topic in the news in Japan not for its skill, but rather for more dubious reasons - the Japanese mob, aka the Yakuza. Read here NOW OR ELSE .
PPPS - Tomorrow, I'll tell you about my own meeting with the Yakuza who made me an offer I could not refuse.

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