Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Midway Point at the Kokugikan

Posted in Uncategorized by bourdaghs on the May 16th, 2010

The current Summer Sumo tournament in Tokyo has reached the halfway point. It’s been insanely busy around my house, so I’ve managed to watch just a couple of days–and then only by using the fast-forward button judiciously. It’s not the best way to watch sumo, since you lose touch with the ritual pacing that is so central to the sport’s charm. But skipping past all the time between bouts also allows you to condense an entire day’s worth of top division matches, which in real time takes ninety minutes, into about fifteen minutes.

The most poignant fact about the current tournament was reported in the press (Japanese-language only) just before it got underway. If you’ve ever visited the Kokugikan to watch matches, you’ve seen the grand array of enormous (3.17 by 2.28 meters) portraits of past champions hanging around the upper tier of the arena. There are 32 in all, and with each tournament they take down the oldest and replace it with a portrait of whomever won the most recent title. As a result, with six tournaments a year, the display gives you a nice snapshot of the last five-plus years in the sport’s history. Here’s an article about the portraits.

(Image source)

Just prior to the current tournament, to make room for Hakuho’s portrait celebrating his victory in Osaka this past March, they took down the portrait of Kaio commemorating his championship in the Autumn 2004 tournament. As a result, right now of the 32 portraits hanging in the Kokugikan only one is of a Japanese wrestler–Tochiazuma, celebrating his upset win in the 2006 New Year tournament. The rest are all Mongolians–with the exception of one that portrays Bulgarian ozeki Kotooshu. It’s all enough to make a nationalist weep.

It isn’t going to change this time around. Mongolian yokozuna Hakuho has things firmly in hand so far with an 8-0 record. The brand new ozeki Baruto (from Estonia) has displayed hesitant, sloppy sumo, but has managed to hang in there at 7-1. Everyone else, including all of the domestic wrestlers, is basically mincemeat at this point. The closest thing there is to a Great Japanese Hope is sekiwake Kisenosato, who has a decent 5-3 mark.

If you were to push the fast-forward button to skip through the last five years of sumo, make sure you don’t blink. Otherwise you’ll miss your one chance to see a Japanese wrestler hoist the championship banner and trophy. The way things look, your next chance to see that sight might be several years away….

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