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KS Cover no. 77 2006 Ocober

OCT 2006 :: 077
 

Sumo warriors compete with tears

The sumo wrestler in the white diaper stomped his foot and let out a scream that could uproot trees. As the sound pierced the air, his wide-eyed opponent turned-tail and crawled promptly toward his mother's outstretched arms. In the previous match, one wrestler built a miniature castle in the dirt, while his would-be opponent examined the grains of sand on his fingers with surprised curiosity.

Of course, this wasn't your normal sumo  tournament where men-built-like-giants tossed each other from the ring. In this sumo match, the competitors were infants, and the best crier seized the glory.

On the second Sunday of October, the annual nakizumo ("sumo of tears" or "crying sumo") competition at Yamajioji Shrine in Kainan, a small town in Wakayama prefecture, drew an influx of tourists, many toting hopeful competitors. Nakizumo is a baby sumo tournament where the loudest crier essentially wins the match, although champions were not declared at Kainan's festivities. According to rules posted on the wall outside Yamajioji Shrine, eligible warriors should be four and five months old, but the laid-back organisers allowed competitors up to three years of age to join the games, where everyone received a prize for participation. Even a few gaikokujin babies found themselves swaddled in loincloths and shedding tears alongside their Japanese counterparts. Babies who touch the dirt in the ring will supposedly be rewarded with good health and good luck as they grow.

Even though I arrived early, scoring a ring-side spot proved a battle in itself once the crowd of parents and grandparents assemble.

Mothers toted babies of varying ages, who were soon ripped from their strollers, popped into loin clothes and sent to grapple in the child-sized ring. Unlike a real sumo tournament where competitors must be male, Kainan's baby version of the sport welcomed females.

The games began as two men, dressed in traditional garb, entered the ring. As the men chose babies from the crowd surrounding the ring and held them up to a crescendo of applause - right on cue - the tots began to shriek.

Camera crews from Japanese TV stations crouched to film the action, while the men gently pushed the little ones on top of each other, mimicking the moves of a sumo wrestler. They rolled the tykes around in the dirt, while the proud moms and dads snapped pictures and waved happily at the red raisin face of their screaming child. Seeing mom and dad across the ring only inspired the babies to bawl louder, which, after all, was the whole point. Each match lasted only a few seconds, so little trauma was done to the participants, who sank into silence the minute they reunited with their beaming families.

More was expected from the two and three-year-olds entering the ring, as the men tried in vain to convince them to crouch in sumo position. The kids, how- ever, were more interested in playing in the dirt and staring in confusion at the audience than pushing their opponent. All wresters sported a red loin cloth or mawashi. Only one baby kept his diaper on underneath his mawashi, an ingenious idea he should have shared with fellow competitors; especially one fierce warrior who protested being separated from his mother by peeing on his opponent, an event that sent ripples of laughter through the adult audience.

Little Haruto, the six-month-old in the stroller next to me, smiled and giggled from his baby carriage as he waited for his round in the ring. Much to his parents chagrin, he continued to smile as the man pulled him from his mother's arms, held him up for the audience and placed him across from his opponent. Haruto, far too enthralled with the screaming baby across from him and obviously confused as to why he was suddenly horizontal in the dirt, failed to raise his voice to the cause. Instead he grinned at his adoring public and shook his feet, elated by the attention.

Once the infants were cried out, elementary school students entered the ring and the competition soon bore more resemblance to an actual sumo match. The kids squatted in sumo pose and fought to push their opponent from the ring. After several rounds, prizes were awarded to the winners.

This year the baby sumo competition occurs on Sunday, October 8 at Yamajioji Shrine along Kumano Ancient Road in Shimotsu, Kainan City. The competition lasts about an hour, and it is not only great for a laugh, but the kids are adorable. Don't forget to bring a camera.

Text & photos: Erin Rigik

Love, not money

KS looks finds looks at the amateur world sumo championships in Sakai

Sakai City in Osaka is a name synonymous with Sen-no-Rikyu and the tea ceremony, but later this month it will have its harmony shattered as it echoes to the sounds of sumo wrestlers doing their thing as part of the 14th Sumo World Championships.Organized by the International Sumo Federation (ISF), the championships are set to welcome around 20 of 86 member nations and their individual participants or teams looking to face-off at the Ohama Park Sumo Arena on October 15th.

Both men and women take part in amateur sumo and although the majority of competitors don't always carry the poundage or centimeters of their professional cousins, there are some weighty guys and gals flying in to Osaka in the next fortnight to try and secure the right to call themselves a world champion wrestler.

As in Ozumo, amasumo's roost is largely ruled by Asian (Mongolian) and European (Bulgarian, Russian and Hungarian) athletes – both in the men's and the women's version. Ukraine is never far away from the awards podium and the southern hemisphere is represented well by South Africa and New Zealand; the Aussies too.

A few differences do exist when comparing the sport of Asashoryu and Akebono (as was) with that of these folk doing sumo for fun. In terms of the action, most notable is the tachiai; synchronized in Ozumo so both rikishi ‘launch' at the same time, in amasumo it is a case of hands down and wait till the ref says ‘go'. Throat grabs and thrusts are regularly seen in the professional sport but are frowned upon by amateurs.

In addition, the athletes themselves are separated into weight classes and as with Ozumo, mawashi loincloths also de rigueur. Exceptions in appearance are made for women who must don a full bodysuit with men permitted to wear spats under the mawashi should the ‘pinch' require it or for reasons of humility.

Off the dohyo, unfortunately sumo is as political as any professional sport and top of the issues today is in-fighting centered on the rights of amateurs to make money; a problem compounded by decent Japanese rikishi being almost guaranteed an offer of a shot in the professional ranks in the future while non-Japanese are currently prevented from joining other foreigners already in Ozumo.

As a result, in early 2006, several disgruntled European wre-stlers and officials joined an American sponsored organization aiming to take sumo on the road to fame and fortune. The group soon went under, plans never got into second gear and much backtracking took place.

Watching from the wings meanwhile, the ISF then banned parti-cipating athletes and officials from attending ISF events but whether this will be a ban realized at Sakai is still up in the air as at least one ESU official has indicated legal action to be a possibility.

Ironic then is the reality that whatever happens the overall loser will likely be the ISF themselves. Add the above squabbles to the fact that the ISF has one eye on the five colored rings of the IOC although approximately half of amasumo's member nations have never even participated in an event and common sense will ultimately put pay to any hopes of the full IOC recog-nition so craved; after all, would a world sporting body as respected as the IOC ever fully welcome a sport with statutes that reserve a disproportionate percentage of its senior posts for one nationality?

Think about that one should you want to venture deeper into the sport but relegate the politics to a backseat for now as you cheer on these men and women representing the true grass roots of sumo - a wonderful sport.

Text: Mark Buckton • Photos courtesy: International Sumo Federation

:: Online Articles

:: FEATURE

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:: CULTURE

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Kansai and Kanto face off

:: SPECIAL

The yodogawa: my majestic santuary
On the banks of Yodogawa

:: SPORTS

Alternative sumo in Kansai
Sumo of tears / Amateur world sumo championship

:: TRAVEL

Oasis of tranquility among rugby scrums
Khajuraho & Orchha, India

:: GETAWAY

A way less known
Mt. Takao, Kyoto

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:: Also in this month's mag

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Ristorante Rvalentino, Kobe

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Best festivals & listings

:: READ

New releases & top ten

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:: LANGUAGE

Kansai-ben

:: PROFILE

David Simpson of Illectric Sheep


Ways & means

Yamajioji Shrine is a 15-minute drive from Kamogo Station on the JR Kinokuni line. Parking is limited so arrive early. The competition usually takes place in the afternoon.
Call 073-494-0455 for more information.
For train times and information visit www.hyperdia.com

While in Kainan

If you're staying in Kainan after the tournament, you won't want to miss hiking part of the Kumano Kodo Trail. This ancient road was awarded a place on the World Heritage List in July 2004 as one of the "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range." For routes, maps and other information visit: http://kumadoco.net/kodo_eng/about/index.html.

Alternate Baby Sumo

There are other types of nakizumo as well. One form of nakizumo involves actual sumo wrestlers who hold the babies in their arms and rock them; the winner being the one whose baby cries first. Check out this type of baby sumo at the end of April in Tokyo, in front of the Ichikawa Danjuro's statue of Gongoro (in the kabuki play Shibaraku,) behind Asakusa Sensoji Kannon Temple.
Call the tourist Office for more information at (03) 3844-1221. (Japanese only).
The nearest station is Asakusa Station (Eidan-Ginza/Toei-Asakusa lines).