Raw Japan

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Sumo “porky” tab a low blow

July 23, 2009

Bad boy sumo grand champion Asashoryu has been called many things, but it’s unlikely whether being dubbed “porky” will cause the Mongolian star to lose much sleep.

When a former wrestler, now working as a television commentator, accused the “yokozuna” of being flabby, it marked a new low in the hounding of one of the greats of Japan’s ancient sport.

Asashoryu has character flaws, which have polarised opinion within the strict, cloistered sumo world with regular breaches of protocol such as telling Japanese journalists to “Drop dead!”

But there is an undercurrent of xenophobia detectable in the increasingly frequent tabloid attacks on the 28-year-old wrestler, who needed around-the-clock police protection after receiving a death threat earlier this year.

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One criticism was that he “lacks the dignity” to hold sumo’s top rank, rattled off ad nauseam by Japan’s conservative media and even members of the sport’s inner sanctum. Nonsense!

He is fabulous at what he does, and if he growls at opponents from time to time, so what? Didn’t boxing’s Ali growl at Frazier more than a little, tennis’ John McEnroe shriek at umpires and basketball’s Michael Jordan bark at almost everyone he dunked on in the NBA?

Tut-tut all you like about the infamous “Battle of the Bathroom,” when soapsuds flew as Asashoryu and another giant wrestler had a punch-up in a communal bath. The fact is, there is never a dull moment when Asashoryu is around.

Calling the 23-time Emperor’s Cup winner pudgy a week after the collapse of his marriage, even though his 150kg frame is relatively small for the roly-poly sport, smacks of desperation.

“He doesn’t look buff!” remarked Shuhei Mainoumi, without a hint of irony. You think?! He’s a sumo wrestler, for heaven’s sake. Some of them tip the scales at over 250 kilograms and move with all the grace of Jabba the Hutt.

Not so the skilful Asashoryu, who could walk away from the sport prematurely unless the witchhunts stop and he is afforded the respect he deserves. Japan’s sumo community should be careful what it wishes for.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Comments

Have to agree with most of Himmer-san’s blog.

Being a casual follower of sumo for past the 20 years, it is fairly consistent that the Japanese have a problem with successful foreign wrestlers, the problem is particularly acute at the moment because there are no Japanese wrestlers that seem able to compete.

Unfortunately, the riggers of Sumo life are something that young Japanese do not aspire to- consequently many wrestlers come from developing countries- and they bring new technique and enthusiasm. Sumo has been much more entertaining since the arrival of the Mongolian wrestlers. In fact it is more like it was when the Japanese great Chiyonofuji reigned with speed and technique.

But Japnese are a proud people and naturally find this all a difficult situation to come to grips with. But the constant argument of foreign wrestlers lacking dignity (“gei hin”) is insulting, particularly as Japanese enthusiastically embrace the bafoonish behavior of Japanese wrestler Takamizakri. If foreign wrestler behaved in such a manner, he would be on the next plane home.

Sumo’s problems run deep but foreign wrestlers such as Asashoryu are not one them.

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