Japanese Sumo Headlines


The inescapable, critical skill we sumo fans need to enhance our appreciation and enjoyment of the sport is the ability to read Japanese. Even if your language skills are basic, it will open the world to you so that you can read about your favorite wrestlers, go to tournaments, and further appreciate the sumo “community,” perhaps even joining some of the official fan clubs. You can also get a lot more out of the Japanese Sumo Association’s website. While it is a great English language resource in its own right, many of the news releases are only available in Japanese and Google Translate is CRAP at translating Japanese, especially when it comes to sumo terms and shikona of lower-ranked wrestlers.

Springtime in DC

I’ve had it a bit lucky. I studied Japanese in college, lived and worked in Japan for a year, married a Japanese wife who speaks Japanese at home with the kids (who love to wrestle in the living room). It’s still very difficult for me to read an entire article quickly, and accurately, so it may be a surprise that the aim of this series of articles is not to teach you Japanese. It’s to teach it to myself. If you all learn some along the way, awesome.

The great thing about newspapers is that they basically cram the point of the article in the headline or first paragraph of the article. The rest is background and extra information. So, I’m setting a rather low bar: let’s learn how to read headlines and, eventually, first paragraphs of articles.

Today’s headline comes from the Nikkei. Nikkei is the nickname for The Nihon Keizai Shimbun, which is one of those big, trusted, formal media outlets that you learn about when first trying to learn Japanese in school. It’s one of the biggest news outlets in Japan. They actually own the English language Financial Times, as of 2015. So, today’s headline:

稀勢の里、劇的優勝に喜び 故障箇所は明言せず

Throw this into Google Translate and you get a word sausage: “A rare village, pleased with a dramatic victory, not declaring a fault location.” Most of you will recognize the first four characters straight away. (稀勢の里)That’s not “a rare village,” that’s our champion, Kisenosato. The observant may even recognize another shikona in there. The second character, when used by itself, is Ikioi (勢).

げきてきゆうしょうによろこび

劇的優勝に喜び

The next section has another important sumo word, highlighted in blue: yusho (championship). The word before it, gekiteki, means dramatic. The part after it is ni yoriko bi which means he is happy with.

こしょうかしょはめいげんせず

故障箇所は明言せず

The last phrase is a bit harder and is what I will get context for by reading the article. The words mean, “without speaking of the accident.” I think the accident they’re referring to is his big injury but I will need to read the article to find out if what I think that means is what they really meant. Or, it could mean he “didn’t talk about any faults.” I think the former but maybe the latter. See, this is why I need to study Japanese.

16 thoughts on “Japanese Sumo Headlines

  1. Not being fluent in Japanese is the biggest regret of my life! I tried so many times to learn hiragana and katakana… and finally opted for Korean hangeul which is incomparably easier!

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    • It does seem much easier. Kanji, for me, is the rough part. Japanese grammar is pretty straight forward, though. Not so much subject-verb-object agreement.

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    • The great thing about sumo news, it’s not at the same complexity level as trying to read things like trade publications. It seems that keeping things straightforward for sports fans may be universal.

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  2. I stumbled across a couple of online (free) introductory Japanese courses, one from NHK and one called Japanese-Lesson.com. The courses are broken into very short lessons, which makes it practical since for someone like myself, it’s something to squeeze in during spare time in the day (killing the lunch break, etc.). I learned Hiragana and Katakana first; I just deal with Kanji as I come across it (I’m familiar with Chinese characters already).

    I realize it will be some time before I have any practical competency, but that’s just part of learning a new language. Patience and consistency is what it takes.

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  3. I’m not too sure where to post this – but has anybody visited any heya around Tokyo to watch training? Any insight into which ones are the most accommodating to spectators from personal experience?

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  4. I use jisho.org a lot. My Grandma is Japanese and I grew up attending a Japanese church in Texas and took some classes but years went by I had a family and just sort of drifted away from having much to do with the language. It’s something I regret not having kept up with but I am trying to slowly work on it again. I think you’re completely right about learning the language to enhance more enjoyment of sumo. Thanks for sharing this, it’s a good idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • During my time in Japan, I found the first thing I picked up was understanding spoken Japanese. There are some sounds in Japanese that the western ear is not trained to hear, so that takes some work. But I found that I could understand what was being said long before I knew how to correct utter the same. Reading Hiragana and Katakana was fairly straightforward. Kanji – I found that learning about 100 common glyphs can allow you to guess what is going on some of the time. It’s not an easy road to be certain.

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  5. As an alternative to Google Translate, I can suggest two other translation engines which tend to produce more intelligible output:

    Yahoo Japan: http://honyaku.yahoo.co.jp/url (websites) and http://honyaku.yahoo.co.jp/transtext/ (direct text)

    Excite Japan: http://www.excite.co.jp/world/english/

    The downside is that the navigation requires some Japanese to begin with, though it’s not too difficult. For Yahoo, just change the selection in the left dropdown box (source language) to Japanese 日本語, and the other dropdown (target language) will automatically switch to English, though other languages such as German are also available.

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