The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Now a different sport


Sumo line up

I was a bit shocked to read Justin McCurry`s article in the Guardian just now. Apparently for the first time in history no new Japanese apprentices came forward to undergo the grueling training to become a Sumo wrestler. This will be bad news for the Japanese fans of Sumo who often bemoan the lack of homegrown talent as they wait patiently for a native born champion or Yokuzuna to appear again. With the number of foreign wrestlers sweating it out at the stables and at the tournaments now outnumbering the Japanese wrestlers they may be waiting a very long time.

Sumo has a history that dates back thousands of years and the rituals of the sport are inextricably linked to the mores of Japanese culture. But young Japanese men nowadays are not wanting to become sumo wrestlers due to the easier life, better money and general attractiveness of sports like football and baseball. Somu is not even watched by the young that much and it is argued that the lack of a Japanese hero in the ring to inspire them is also to blame. To my mind however the hardships and, if rumour has it, cruelty of the training is what puts a lot of people off following this particular career path.

Right-wingers may talk of the missing stoicism in modern Japanese youth, and still others talk with that curious mock science of injured pride about a genetic difference in a nation of farmers, namely Japan, being unble to compete fairly with the Europeans and Mongolians due to a physiological weakness to the hips that evolved from all that rice planting but I can`t agree I just think the new wrestlers are better. That they come from another country is irrelevant.

Personally I think making this sport more international will be good for it. There is no escaping the essential Japanese character in the actions, disciplines and asthetics of the sport, so whether a Yokuzuna is Japanese, Mongolian, Chinese, Russian or Bulgarian (as in the pictures above) they celebrate Japan history and culture with every throw of salt or lift of their leg. Rumours of match fixing and “bad-boy” antics that are culturally insensitive are basically just sour grapes. Sumo wrestlers of what ever nationality are easily the most dignified and most Japanese people you`ll ever meet.  

For a good photo essay of a Japanese sumo stable check out my friend Pierre Olivier`s website. He is a supremely talanted French photographer who has just moved to Japan. The pictures above are mine from a rather suburban tournament in Yamoto City. The top picture is Kotooshu from Bulgaria. One of the most popular gaijin Sumo wrestlers he is called the David Beckham of Sumo and I just love the look of love on the old ladies face as she claps him.

 Bienvenue Pierre!




One response

  1. For the top dogs in the game there is no better money! But the younger ones still aspiring to improve and still training there is no pay! They have to get onto the pay ladder’s first rung first. Pretty tough.

    The foreign wrestlers will likely have more drive and determination, and perhaps be more attuned as to what they’re letting themselves in for.

    I’m going to the Nagoya Basho tomorrow. Always good fun. Bit like the Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) as most people seem to be there for the social experience and the beer and many seem to be taking little notice of the sumo.

    July 7, 2007 at 5:36 am

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