Let's Hear From You!
What Made You A Fan?
by Todd Lambert
across the site of one of the temporary sumo-beya, I couldn’t help but
again feel the contrast between all the costumes, color, and commotion
of what I’d seen on TV, and the Spartan nature of this training
place. One of sumo’s many contrasts worked its way into my
Fast forward to a year later. 1998 found me living and working in Japan, and being able to watch every day of every basho live on TV, as well as catch the late night highlights shows. If I couldn’t be home for the action, I could tape it and watch it after work. And lo and behold, although I was living far from the center of the sumo universe (Tokyo), the big men did come to a town near me (Nagoya) once a year for a honbasho, as well as passing through every June for a one-day exhibition tournament. There was the dohyo- iri at Atsuta Jingu, Ise Shrine sumo – opportunities abounded. I began using my vacation time to make trips to Osaka to catch the March tourney, and then to Tokyo as well for winter and fall action.
At the 1999 Nagoya basho, I happened to sit in a box seat next to a man belonging to the Sadogatake- beya supporters’ association. After cheering for many of the same rikishi, and sharing a few cold beverages, he invited me to watch asageiko with him the following day. Then, the chance to have chanko with the boys, and chat with them. If I hadn’t been hooked on sumo already, that would have done it. The opportunity of the average fan to view the daily lives of the sumotori, to see all the hard work behind the scenes, and the closeness of the action and the spectators at the tournaments themselves, that was something I wasn’t used to from professional sports I’d watched in the past. This is how I began devoting a fair chunk of my free time to sumo appreciation and fandom.
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I first took real notice of sumo in the spring of 1997. I was in
Japan for a month’s vacation to visit a relative and a friend, and the
Haru basho was held during that time. At first, I noticed it
while watching the nightly news broadcasts on the English
sub-channel. It was a far cry from what I remembered seeing on TV
in Canada – brief bits on late night sports wrap-up shows, designed to
emphasize the odd and the humorous, with a lot of jokes about nearly
naked fat guys slapping at and dancing with each other.
My first impression when watching the NHK news highlights was that these were fights - I was watching actual fights. This was definitely not the farce I had been led to believe. The guys were huge, and they were really going at each other. The next thing I noticed was the speed. This wasn’t some sort of careful cat and mouse game, with opponents dancing and prancing about while trying to size the other guy up. These guys charged in straight away, and usually finished the fight in a matter of seconds. And the venue: fighting in a dirt ring surrounded by rows of fans in rising tiers. It looked so cozy, so intimate, so…exciting!
I found myself looking forward to seeing the tournament results every night on the news, and recognizing some of the names.
to make impressions were the Hawaiian giants – Konishiki, Musashimaru,
and Akebono. Also the Hanada brothers; this was, after all, near
the height of Waka-Taka fever. I didn’t catch very much of
the ritual aspect at this time, highlight reels tend to edit out that
sort of thing. Maybe an especially exciting bit may slip by, like
Big Salt (Mitoizumi) and his routine, or a Konishiki nirami. But
by and large it was the fights, the torikumi themselves that got me
During the basho, the whole nation seemed to be sumo crazy. Stopping for a late lunch or early supper at a restaurant, we’d invariably notice sumo on the ubiquitous corner TV. Walking through a department store or Akihabara one would notice all the TVs tuned to the NHK daily sumo broadcast, and all those not too busy stopping to have a look at the young superstars dominate the dohyo. Even a visit to Kamogawa SeaWorld found us in mock bouts with the whale mascots. Sumo was fun, sumo was cool, sumo was a national passion – it was everywhere.
While watching these bits of live sumo whilst out and about, I couldn’t help but start to notice all the ritual and pageantry associated with the professional sport. The paradox of simplicity and splendor definitely increased my interest. Passing through Osaka after the basho, and