Does shinto permit instant replay?
July 20, 2012 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Sumo, the Japanese martial art that doesn't have a class at your local gym! Perhaps better known from Freakonomics than ESPN 5, the sport continues to draw crowds and contenders, an odd number of whom are from Eastern Europe, and one of whom is just barely over 200 pounds. Never seen it before?

Sumo is simple in theory. Two rikishi step into a ring, and the first one to step out or touch the ground loses. Despite this, there are scores of different kimarite (finishing techniques) that one can use to land one's opponent. This SA thread goes into great detail about the ins and outs - places to watch, top champions, scandal, and the pay (not so great).

Takonoyama (also in the video above) is one of quite a number of Eastern Europeans who have found their way into the ring. One third of sumo's ozeki (second highest ranked rikishi) are from the former Bloc. Bloggers discuss.

Up late? The last two days of the Nagoya basho (tournament) are streaming online, right now. Be prepared for a lot of salt throwing in the upper divisions.
posted by Make Way for Ducklings! (24 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've always wondered why you don't see more Americans in sumo; it seems like a sport almost perfectly tailored to the skills and body of someone trained as a lineman in American football.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:58 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

MR, two of the last six yokozuna were Americans: Musashimaru and Akebono. (But neither of them were football players.)

What's more amazing is that there hasn't been a Japanese yokozuna since Takanohana retired, more than ten years ago. The last two are Mongolian and between them they have totally dominated for years.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:10 PM on July 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the link to the Nagoya basho. This is a sport I really enjoy and have only seen video of before now. I think I'll stay up a little longer and watch some more! You've given us a treat, Make Way for Ducklings!
posted by Anitanola at 11:24 PM on July 20, 2012

Oh cool.

There are a lot of images of sumo wrestlers floating around in popular culture, but I had never seen the sport itself until a few years ago. They were showing it on... ESPN2, I think? late one night, and I was completely mesmerized.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:24 AM on July 21, 2012

I've seen it live in Tokyo in May. Across the street from the McDonalds where you could still smoke cigarettes. They sold us two "booths" for the price of one, 'cause we were fat Americans. It was wonderful and poetic. We ate dried squid and dried cheese and couldn't tell the difference, We drank Asahi Super Drys in the 500ml cans. The dude from Russia or whereever won his match. The crowd loved him.

Later we learned most of the matches are fixed. But they can't take our wonderful day away.
posted by notyou at 1:08 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sumo should become the most popular sport in America. A nation of obese people sits around watching other obese people push each other a short distance.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:08 AM on July 21, 2012 [6 favorites]

hurf durf chanko-eaters
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:19 AM on July 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I also used to watch Sumo wrestling on ESPN2 years ago when I was teaching in Ga. I remember being shocked that it was on tv.
posted by wittgenstein at 3:12 AM on July 21, 2012

I was a huge fan of sumo, but honestly, the bout fixing thing really killed the sport for me. Everyone knew it existed, but it was such a big news event (it was a massive, massive story here, going on for months) and then suddenly, they said "hey, it was just these guys here, certainly no one important, let's just move on." One wrestler went on the record as pointing out four wrestlers, himself included, that he was sure hadn't fixed bouts. According to him, pretty much everyone else, including Ozeki had been involved.

I'm trying to get back into it, but I don't enjoy it like I used to. There was a big hubbub when the most recent Ozeki was announced (especially since he's Japanese). There are a record six Ozeki now,and there was some breathless commentary over which would be the newest Yokozuna. Personally, I would put money on an Ozeki being demoted before any of this group reaches Yokozuna, barring any serious injury to Hakuho.

As it stands, in the rafters of the Kokugikan in Ryogoku, there are portraits of the winners of past basho. Due to space, I think they only show the last six or seven years, and someone pointed out that there haven't been any Japanese portraits for ages. It's all Hakuho and Asashoryu, with one or two other Mongolians and possibly one of Kotooshu.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:48 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Who'd have thought that the one place where Japan would be most welcoming of foreigners would wind up being almost literally the most Japanese thing imaginable? Baruto and Kotoōshū are always among the most popular among the audience's cheering, it's seemed, whenever I go.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:10 AM on July 21, 2012

I was a huge fan of sumo, but honestly, the bout fixing thing really killed the sport for me.

Ditto. The shine is off the apple (or should I say nashi).
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:11 AM on July 21, 2012

probably shouldn't, since they don't shine in the first place

unless uh the analogy goes deeper than I thought
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:30 AM on July 21, 2012

BTW, there's a sumo stable (yeah, they're called stables) very near my house which was the home base of the great Musahimaru. I once shook his hand, like a real fanboy, and I still see him around the nabe every so often, on his bicycle. We've nodded at each other a few times on the street (there's almost no other foreigners around my parts, and I'm pretty sure he remembers me). Last time I saw him was at one of the local grocery stores, just a couple months ago. He was wearing a baseball cap, and had lost considerable weight.

This video of sumo-san pounding mochi for New Years is something I shot at that same stable. Most people, of course, find those relatively heavy hammers a bit unwieldy, but as you can see, for the sumo-san-tachi, it ain't no thing...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:34 AM on July 21, 2012

Don't let the girth of the sumo fool you, those men are actually quite gifted athletically; The average specimen of Homo Sapiens Northamericanus Fatassensis can't hold a candle to them.
posted by Renoroc at 6:42 AM on July 21, 2012

Actually, it's "Takanoyama" not "Takonoyama", although the latter (タコの山? 蛸の山?) would be a great Sumo name, too.
posted by sour cream at 6:43 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Sumo was one of the things I genuinely looked forward to while I was in Japan. I couldn't understand a word of the commentary, but I loved every second of it. I remember having to run down the street to the grocery store, where they had the basho going on all three of their TVs by the registers.

My own personal brush with Sumo came when, working a summer job in downtown St. Louis, I was sent out to get Chinese for the company. Talking to the owner, she mentioned that her son was a famous Sumo wrestler in Japan. Doing quick research, it looks like her son is Sentōryū Henri.
posted by gc at 7:31 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Takanoyama reminds me of the superlative Chiyonofuji, the dominant Yokozuna from the eighties. Same massive guns, same massive traps, same (relatively) low body fat percentage. Both seem to rely on powerful weightlifter muscles and a solid body core to slam down rikishi much taller, fatter and heavier than them.

I've often wondered what would become of sumo if--due to health concerns, due to changes in the diet regimin--a few sumo wrestlers gave up their fat-building meals of chankonabe stew, began lifting weights like madmen and acquired MMA physiques. Would they dominate in the ring by virtue of being lighter and stronger? Or would the smaller weight be a detriment?
posted by Gordion Knott at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2012

chankonabe stew: Chankonabe served during sumo tournaments is made exclusively with chicken, the idea being that a rikishi should always be on two legs like a chicken, not all fours.
posted by snaparapans at 9:13 AM on July 21, 2012

Over here in England, there was a Channel 4 documentary around five years ago about the British Sumo Federation (warning: eye-bleeding web design) and their search for female sumo wrestlers that they could then take to the World Championships.

Since the Federation is based on Derby, I gave serious thought to applying. But I needed to have a steady paycheque than I needed to sumo.

Still kicking myself over that one.
posted by Katemonkey at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2012

A few additions:

For anyone who comes to this thread after Saturday and can't see the feed:
Here is your Youtube time machine.

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone's recording lower division matches. It's interesting to see the same ring transform from "empty middle school gymnasium" to "college tournament sports" to "big budget arena theater" over a few hours.

From a scandal perspective: I don't know how you would fight the gambling or the organized crime, but match-fixing seems like an enormous temptation in a system where one match could cut my family's salary by $36k or more. I'd be interested in seeing what alternatives people could invent - I love studying economic systems.

flapjax at midnite: My friend linked me to these:
posted by Make Way for Ducklings! at 11:38 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

an odd number of whom are from Eastern Europe

What, like, three or five or seven? I don't see why that fact is worthy of notice.
posted by longtime_lurker at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2012

The Real Sumo Wrestling (sorry about the low-res).
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2012

There was a sumo stable near the apartment I used to live in. I always meant to go watch practice (evidently, if you ask nicely, they'll let you watch the morning practice). It turns out that a fair number of wrestlers named and punished in the match fixing scandal were from that stable, so, well, yeah.

It was fun seeing them around the station though. It's hard to really comprehend just how big these guys are until you see them in real life.

And, longtime lurker, the big deal being made is that this is truly Japan's national sport, and at the same time, the biggest public display of the vestiges of state religion (Shinto) in a largely secular society. There's a ton of nationalism wrapped up in sumo, and one of the reasons its popularity has declined is that there are so many foreign wrestlers. Not only that, but the foreign wrestlers still have to overcome a lot, and when they make it to the top, they have to be twice as good, follow the rules, and all of that, as the Japanese rikishi are. When Asashoryu was Yokozuna, the sumo council did all they could to find a reason to kick him out (it didn't help that he was a drunk, belligerent bully who gave them all they needed). Then, going back a bit earlier, there was Konishiki, who was denied promotion to Yokozuna because of debate as to whether a foreigner could have the necessary cultural understanding to fill the spot. There was also the case of two Russian brothers, Roho and Hyakurozan, who were given the boot over possession of marijuana, when Japanese wrestlers were just suspended. I don't envy what the foreign rikishi have to go through.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:59 PM on July 21, 2012

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