Mon­go­lian-born wrestlers turn Ja­panese to grap­ple with sumo

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

NAGOYA, Ja­pan — The sound of bod­ies slap­ping against each other rocks the sti­fling sumo “sta­ble” in the Ja­panese city of Nagoya, as 11 gi­gan­tic wrestlers wear­ing only loin­cloths take turns throw­ing each other out of a ring of sand.

The wrestlers, or “rik­ishi”, at the pres­ti­gious To­mozuna sta­ble spend more than three hours each morn­ing prac­tic­ing holds in Ja­pan’s an­cient na­tional sport, with de­feat fac­ing the first to fall or be forced out of the ring.

With rare per­mis­sion granted by sumo’s gov­ern­ing body, Reuters was able to ob­serve the sta­ble’s wrestlers train­ing at their tem­po­rary Bud­dhist tem­ple base for the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tour­na­ment that be­gan last week, gain­ing in­sight into the in­tri­ca­cies of sumo.

En­ter­ing the world of sumo is to eat, live, and breathe Ja­panese — from the samu­raistyle top­knots to the rigid hi­er­ar­chy.

But the tough train­ing and tra­di­tion-bound ways have put off many Ja­panese youth, leav­ing sumo to be dom­i­nated by for­eign — mostly Mon­go­lian — wrestlers, who face a gru­el­ing path to as­sim­i­la­tion.

“Lan­guage was the big­gest source of stress,” said To­mozuna Oyakata, bet­ter known by his fight­ing name Kyokutenho, the first Mon­go­lian­born wrestler to lead a sumo sta­ble.

“I couldn’t un­der­stand any­thing when I was be­ing scolded, or even when I was be­ing praised,” said the mas­ter, one of the first six Mon­go­lians to be in­ducted into the sport in 1992.

To­day, the one-time cham­pion, who was born Nyam­javyn Tseveg­nyam, speaks near-flaw­less Ja­panese, has a Ja­panese wife, and has given up his Mon­go­lian na­tion­al­ity to be­come Ja­panese — a re­quire­ment to be­come a sumo mas­ter, or ‘oyakata’.

After end­ing prac­tice at 10:30 am, the wrestlers min­gle with fans, sign au­to­graphs and pose for pho­tos be­fore the first of their two daily meals.

Lunch, pre­pared by the ju­nior wrestlers, is a spread of pig’s feet, grilled and deep­fried sar­dines, steamed rice, and ‘chanko nabe’ — a sig­na­ture hot-pot dish as­so­ci­ated with sumo wrestlers, who are said to con­sume 8,000 calo­ries a day.

The wrestlers nap for sev­eral hours im­me­di­ately after eat­ing, wear­ing oxy­gen masks to aid breath­ing.

Full as­sim­i­la­tion into Ja­panese cul­ture means that for­eign wrestlers face no ill­will.

“We wear our top­knots, ki­monos and san­dals, and live by Ja­panese rules, and the rules of sumo,” said To­mozuna Oyakata.

“It’s only by chance that we were born a dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­ity.”

I couldn’t un­der­stand any­thing when I was be­ing scolded, or even when I was be­ing praised.” To­mozuna Oyakata, sumo wrestler are said to be con­sumed each day by the sumo wrestlers.

ISSEI KATO / REUTERS

Sumo wrestler Kaiho eats a "chanko" meal in the main hall of Gan­joji Yakushido tem­ple, in Nagoya, Ja­pan. The tem­ple is used by sumo wrestlers be­long­ing to the To­mozuna sta­ble as a tem­po­rary base for the Nagoya Grand Sumo Tour­na­ment.

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