Sumo is the traditional sport of Japan. Sumo tournaments throughout the year bring communities together as wrestlers not only fight for the championship title of yokozuna, but to entertain the gods. Sumo is steeped in Shinto religious references through rice throwing, purification through drinking water, and respect to ritual through bows and procedures for entering and leaving the ring. But sumo is changing. Foreigners from outside Japan from places such as Mongolia, are dominating the sport. Looking to get on in some of the fun, the foreign community in Akita held their own sumo fun. And your very own Tohoku Thunder was there to represent!
On June 24th of this year, the Akita JET Association held their 8th annual foreign sumo tournament forall to enjoy. JET of course is the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program that places Assistant Language Teachers throughout Japan. There were many current and former JET participants and since yours truly will apply for the program this coming year, I thought I should try on my sumo muwashi for size (it’s not a sumo diaper!). Following traditional rules with a little more humor and fun, the clash of the titans was about to begin!
My first match was against a former champion man twice my size. I thought I could trick him by sidestepping when he charged me at the start of the match. He didn’t fall for it. It wasn’t pretty as I tried to stay in the ring. The match is over when one person leaves the ring or when any body part besides the sole of the feet touch the ground. I was nearly hurled out of that ring. Many of us have battle scars from that day. It took a few more matches to get the hang of sumo. Advice from fellow sumo were to stay low, have confidence, and fight with all your heart. It was no longer fun and games, this was war.
It was my fourth match. Three loses had crushed my body, but not my spirit. My opponent and I slammed into each other. We danced around the ring trying to maintain balance and get an advantage. Several reversals and push and pulls resulted with me standing in the ring with my opponent on the ground outside the ring. I had won!! At the end of the day I had won 3 out of 7 of my matches. I learned sumo wrestlers are real athletes. It is not easy to last so many rounds and give 100% while wearing so little body armor. The professional tournaments never come more north than Tokyo, so I was lucky to have this experience in Tohoku.
Proceeds from the tournament were donated to the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami relief. Before departing we all agreed to train hard and battle again next year. We’ll see you there.