As senshuraku approaches and the yusho race heats up, I wanted to take a minute to summarize what we know (and some speculation) about President Trump’s scheduled visit to Japan. The purpose of the visit is to be the first foreign leader to meet with the popular new Emperor, Naruhito. Along with the aircraft carrier visit, a golf outing, and dinner at a robatayaki restaurant, the trip will include a chance to watch sumo at Kokugikan and award a new trophy to the makuuchi yusho winner.
Already, there is one positive thing to come from this trip. Despite having studied Japanese in college, lived and worked in Tokyo, visited numerous times since I moved back to the States, and having married a Japanese woman…I had never heard of robatayaki until an hour ago. Apparently it’s grilled on skewers, like yakitori, but it’s usually seafood and veggies. My wife really likes scallops done in this way. How am I just now learning of this? Bruce, did you know of this? I’ve eaten shirako, fugu, bonjiri and basashi for Christ’s sake. I thought my palate was rather sophisticated with my fondness for yuzu and preference for anago over unagi. I guess not. I’m going to need to hit up a robatayaki joint next time or else I’ll only feel worthy of KFC…or maybe Skylark.
Back to the President’s trip, my wife also offered an interesting justification for the golfing trip, one that is apparently common sense among Japanese executives but not mentioned much in the American press. She says her former bosses, executives at a Japanese chemical company, used to golf the next day after traveling back to Japan from the US to help deal with jetlag. Something about being out in the sun helped them recover quickly from the time change. My shusshin is Pinehurst, NC and have played and worked on some of the country’s best golf courses. But I’ve never heard of this rationale. I will be making some marketing suggestions next time I’m home.
The visit comes at an important time with a number of policy issues; the failure of the TPP is firmly in the rear view mirror but there’s a hot trade war with China and the threat of new tit-for-tat trade tariffs with Japan itself, over cars and agriculture, as well as the usual diplomatic tensions with North Korea. However, according to Time magazine, this is a “policy free” trip…which means our posts get to be policy-free (and humor-filled) posts! This is a friendly networking visit and an exciting chance to have the US offer a prize to the yusho winner.
We know the Emperor, and his father, are sumo fans. Naruhito’s daughter was also a big fan of sumo when she was growing up. They stepped back a bit in light of various scandals but the sport still draws the imperial presence. So, as the two parties hope to signal their strong ties and the importance of the alliance in the Pacific, it makes a lot of sense that they would take in some sumo. They are currently scheduled to watch the final three bouts and then present an official trophy to the yusho winner. Trump is a noted teetotaler, so I doubt there will be any drunken antics like when the mayor of Nagoya awarded Harumafuji his trophy back in 2016.
The Japanese press has indicated American stable master Musashigawa (former Yokozuna Musashimaru, uncle of Musashikuni, oyakata of Wakaichiro) will be on hand to assist with translation and answer questions, offer explanations of the sport. I do not know the President’s knowledge level of the sport – or Prime Minister Abe’s – but it would be awesome to sit and watch with a former Yokozuna. If it were me, he would be asked a bunch of silly questions, such as, “what do the four colors of the tassels mean?” However, if Trump is a more seasoned, knowledgeable fan, it would be fascinating to just sit back and listen to them discuss the finer points of yotsu grips and kimarite.
Foreign dignitaries have visited Kokugikan before. Above are some pictures of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Their son, William, is also a fan. As we can see, though, they sat in the box. There is speculation, and some consternation, about why Trump will be seated ringside but I believe the VIP box will be full and Hakkaku will have a lot on his plate entertaining his own guests. He’ll probably be quite happy passing off some duties to Musashigawa oyakata.
The President and Prime Minister will be seated by the dohyo. This will likely be on the 正 side, facing the gyoji, so a bit off camera (below the bottom of the screen) for that main shot we’re all used to from NHK and AbemaTV coverage. I’m sure the camera between bouts will cut to some of the commotion but I’m not entirely convinced the guests will show up in time for the last three bouts. It may be the DC traffic, but it’s been my experience that things with VIPs seem to run quite a bit behind schedule sometimes, especially after a round of golf. I swear, I’ve been behind some five hour rounds of golf before and it is torture. My bet is, they’ll show up, still in spikes, just in time to hand Kakuryu his trophy.