President Trump’s Senshuraku Visit

File Photo

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.

NHK World’s Grand Sumo Preview

With just days before the Natsu Basho starts, it’s time once again to join the crew of NHK World’s Grand Sumo for a preview show. Typically we can expect Murray Johnson, John Gunning and Hiro Morita, with some torture sessions applied to Raja Pradhan. These shows are always fun, and full of great sumo fan information.

Show times are US Eastern and Pacific. Do tune in and check it out.

  • Friday 12:30 AM Eastern / Thursday 09:30 PM Pacific
  • Friday 04:30 AM Eastern / Friday 01:30 AM Pacific
  • Friday 12:30 PM Eastern / Friday 9:30 AM Pacific
  • Friday 06:30 PM Eastern / Friday 03:30 PM Pacific

NHK World Grand Sumo Live – Nakabi (Day 8)

The fantastic crew at NHK World Japan will once again be broadcasting the final 50 minutest of Makuuchi live on their global stream. If you are a die hard sumo fan, an insomniac, or in a world time zone where Makuuchi is not on in the middle of the night, do set your streaming devices to the NHK World feed and enjoy the full bout format, along with insightful commentary from the hosts.

NHK Stream Link – here

Broadcast Times

  • London – 08:10
  • New York – 04:10
  • Chicago – 03:10
  • Los Angeles – 01:10
  • Honolulu – 22:10
  • Sydney – 19:10
  • Tokyo – 17:10

NHK World’s Grand Sumo Osaka Coverage – Friday!

The NHK World’s Grand Sumo team will be starting the Haru basho with a “Grand Sumo Preview” program Friday (Japan time), followed by “Grand Sumo Live” for the final 50 minutes of day 1 Sunday.

The 30 minute “Grand Sumo Preview” program will be the latest in a string of outstanding programs that look into the upcoming tournament, and each program typically features a recap of the previous tournament, a feature rikishi section (maybe Tamawashi?), and a session where Raja Pradhan is forced to be some massive fellow’s practice partner.

Schedule (All Times US Eastern)

Thursday March 7th @ 11:30 PM
Friday March 8th @ 03:30 AM
Friday March 8th @ 11:30 AM
Friday March 8th @ 05:30 PM

NHK Grand Sumo Live For Day 15

As they have done in the past, the NHK Grand Sumo team will be live for the final day of the Hatsu basho. For folks who are interested, it will cover the final matches of the top division, and feature the yusho ceremony and awarding of many large and amazing trophies to either Tamawashi or Takakeisho. Tune it at 4:30 PM Japan time and enjoy 90 minutes of live sumo with all of the details and commentary.

*Note, until such time as the steaming pile of junk called WordPress can fix the live blogging feature, Team Tachiai will sitting out live blogging.

The Origin of Sumo: A Story of Gods, Emperors, and the History of a Nation

Origin of Sumo.jpg
Sumo wrestlers entering the ring by Utagawa Kuniteru,1863.

The origin of sumo is an ancient one, filled with mysticism and mystique. The sport of giants we so fondly love today, came into being over two thousand years ago when two Kami (Shinto gods) clashed in a tumultuous battle for the fate of Japan. Legend has it that the god of thunder Takemikazuchi met his rival, Takeminakata, on the shores of the Sea of Japan in the first recorded sumo bout. Takemikazuchi bested Takeminakata, and thus the thunder god’s followers inherited Japan and established the imperial line that continues to the present day. Henceforth, sumo and Shinto were irreversibly married, and the sport became an integral part of Shinto festivals to entertain the very Kami who gifted sumo to humanity. Sumo also held a key part in the annual rice planting, as wrestling matches played the role of prayer for a bountiful harvest. During the Heian  Period (794-1185), the status of sumo was further elevated when the sport became a regular form of entertainment for the Emperor and the Imperial Court. Not to be outdone, the Daimyo lords began holding sumo matches in their own fiefs across the nation. As rikishi during this era were typically samurai or ronin, they would be invited into the armies of lords who valued their combat prowess.

Oda_Nobunaga_sumo
A mural depicting Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s most important Daimyo, observing a sumo bout. Nobunaga was a prolific supporter of sumo, and his influence on the sport can be seen today in the form of the raised dohyo.

As Japan descended into turmoil during the Sengoku period (1467-1600) the practice of  Kanjin, or public sumo bouts emerged, primarily as a means to fund temple renovations. Over time public sumo events spread out from the temples and into the streets of the major city centres of Japan. However, this street sumo was no longer the dignified sport that had enthralled Emperors and warlords alike. It was far more brutal, bloody, and lewd. Fearing the sport was negatively affecting public morals, the Tokugawa Bakufu (Shogan Government) put a moratorium on the sport, including events organized by shrines to pay for repairs. This ban was short lived and by the Genroku Period (1688-1704) public sumo returned stronger than ever, with the first sanctioned tournament taking place at Tomioka Hachiman Shrine in 1684. It was during this revival that many of the Shinto traditions and rules commonplace in modern sumo were adopted. These additions, such as a strict list of sanctioned techniques, were no doubt a move to improve the sport’s image in the eyes of the Bakufu. By the latter half of the 18th century, sumo’s popularity had grown to the point of being profitable and for the first time competing as a rikishi became a genuine profession. Rikishi such as Tanikaze and Raiden became superstars, and massive temporary venues were constructed to accommodate the throngs of fans desperate to see their favourite athletes compete. Professional sumo, Ozumo, was born.

arena
A temporary sumo venue on the grounds of the Ryogoku Eko-in Temple, Edo. The Eko-in was the seat of Edo/Tokyo sumo and the location of the annual fall and spring basho until the construction of the first Ryogoku Kokugikan in 1909.

While one could see sumo throughout the country,  the Tokugawa capital of Edo was the largest centre for sumo in the country. In 1761, the first banzuke was published, and the group tasked with developing these rankings became the foundation for an organized sumo association that would become the Nihon Sumo Kyokai. Edo, However, was not the only Ozumo hub in Japan. Osaka had also emerged as one of the major powers in the sumo world, and its rivalry with Edo (later Tokyo) Sumo would continue through to the 20th century.  With the end of Tokugawa rule in 1868 came the most serious threat sumo had ever faced. The end of the Bakufu saw Japanese society go through a massive restructuring during the Meiji Revolution, and sumo was seen as archaic and counterintuitive to the nations urgent efforts to catch up to the western world. Furthermore, with the Shogun and Daimyo system abolished, regional Ozumo organizations and rikishi no longer had the financial backing they once relied on to hold tournaments and make a living. In an attempt to weather these financial constraints, Tokyo Sumo established the system of salaries and governance that is still in place today.

American-Sumo
A sumo bout for a crowd of American sailors, 1854. The forced opening of Japan’s borders by Commodore Matthew Perry and his notorious black ships had a significant impact on Japanese culture and, by extension, sumo. Perry and his crew were not impressed by the sport. Rather, they described rikishi as “overfed monsters” and deemed sumo brutish and disgusting.

Sumo remained in a state of uncertainty until Emperor Meiji endorsed the sport through his attendance of a tournament 1884. While the Emperor may have incorporated sumo back into the Japanese consciousness, it wasn’t until the heated rivalry between Hitachiyama Tamien and Umegatani Taro II in 1902 that the sport would regain national prominence. Sumo was once again one of Japan’s most popular forms of entertainment. This success, coupled with the poaching of talented rikishi away from Osaka to the “big leagues” in Tokyo, lead to the merger of the two regional Associations in 1927.  Thus the Nihon Sumo Kyokai was formed, the governing body that would shepherd the sport through the 20th century and it’s greatest boom period ever. Despite its divine origins, sumo has weathered many trying times that nearly saw its extinction. Yet the sport that has delighted both rulers and commoners refused to fade into obscurity. Sumo persists into the current day and survives as the physical, spiritual, and lasting link to the ancient past of Japan.

Meiji-Sumo 2
Two rikishi compete before Emperor Meiji, seated in the top right. The Emperor’s endorsement of sumo marked a dramatic change in the public perception of the sport and ushered in its resurgence in Japan. According to some biographers, Meiji himself was a talented amateur sumo wrestler in his youth.

Onishiki 4
Onishiki Daigoro, sumo’s 28th Yokozuna who competed in the Osaka Association from 1906 to 1922. Following the merger of the two regional Ozumo associations, all Osaka rikishi were relegated to the Makushita division due to the perceived superiority of Tokyo sumo. The only exception were Osaka’s Yokozuna, as their rank protected them from demotion.