Me: Let’s talk about sumo.

Japan: Great. I love sumo.

Me: Is it just two fat men pushing each other?

Japan: No, no, no. It’s way more than that. It’s a centuries old contact sport delicately tied together with Shinto rituals and a martial art.

Me: How old is it?

Japan: The current professional sumo tournaments first started in 1684.

Me: Yeah, okay, that’s old. And there are no weight divisions in sumo, right?

Japan: That’s right.

Me: Everybody is just massive?

Japan: Not always “just massive”. That’s the beauty of sumo. Sometimes one wrestler could be twice the size as the other but due to superior technique, skill, speed and knowledge the smaller man can win. There’s a lot of technical ability that goes behind every sumo wrestler.

Me: And they have to wear fancy underwear, right?

Japan: It’s not underwear. It’s called a mawashi. It’s a silk belt. All martial arts have belts.

Me: Silk? Very comfy. How often do they have a tournament?

Japan: Six times a year. Each tournament is 15 days and they wrestle every day. The man with the most wins is the winner of the tournament.

Me: Every day? That sounds a bit intense.

Japan: It’s a martial art.

Me: And they’re not allowed to cut their hair, right?

Japan: Right.

Me: Or drive a car?

Japan: Correct.

Me: And I’ve never seen a sumo wrestler wearing regular clothes.

Japan: Yeah, surprisingly it’s not a waistline issue. They just always have to wear the traditional yukata in public. They have to lead quite a traditional life.

Me: Well, who wants to squeeze into a pair of jeans when you’re that size? What do they eat to get that big anyway?

Japan: They don’t eat breakfast. Just a huge lunch every day of chankonabe which is pretty much the entire contents of a fridge cooked in stew washed down with rice and beer.

Me: Beer?

Japan: More calories. More bulk.

Me: Do that have any health problems with this kind of lifestyle?

Japan: Er, well, their life expectancy is about 10 years less than the average with diabetes, heart problems, liver diseases, blood pressure and arthritis affecting a lot of retired wrestlers.

Me: Is it really worth it?

Japan: The top wrestlers can earn about 20 million yen a month.

Me: A month?

Japan: Yeah.

Me: Wow. So do lots of young people aspire to be calorie-guzzling, traditional lifestyle-leading sumo wrestling super men?

Japan: Oh, yes. In Mongolia.

Me: Huh?

Japan: Most of the best sumo wrestlers are from Mongolia. The last time a Japanese wrestler won one of the six grand tournaments was in 2006.

Me: Mongolia?

Japan: And no young people really aspire to be sumo wrestlers because no young people really watch it. It’s a sport watched by old people. Who else can sit for hours on end watching traditional wrestling?

Me: Mongolia?

Japan: They’re good at wrestling.

Me: And what about all the problems?

Japan: Problems?

Me: You know, the match fixing stuff I read about.

Japan: Quiet now.

Me: Just a couple of years ago there was a big scandal with 14 wrestlers and text messages and gambling and one guy got banned and they cancelled a tournament for the first time ever. Something like that, right?

Japan: Erm, pardon?

Me: And hasn’t there always been a hazy relationship between sumo and the yakuza?

Japan: Mongolia?

Me: I think it was in 2010. They bought 50 prized seats so that the gangsters were very visible during a televised tournament. Why did they do that?

Japan: Is that the time? I need to get going.

Me: Yeah alright. Anyway, you like sumo.

Japan: Sumo. I love sumo.

Me: It’s not just two fat men pushing each other.

Japan: Exactly.

Me: It’s two very skilful, technically gifted Mongolian men with a drastically reduced life expectancy and unconventional lifestyle who wear silk and didn’t fix the result or gamble illegally and have absolutely no ties with organised crime syndicates…pushing each other.

Japan: …

Me: …?

Japan: You know, on balance, your ignorant first description was probably nicer.


October 1, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized.

One Comment

  1. Ben replied:

    Am in love with this blog!

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