Following a pattern set by previous tournaments, the NHK sumo crew is broadcasting live for both Day 14 and Day 15. This maps out to Saturday and Sunday afternoon in Japan, starting around 5:00 PM Japan time. The broadcast typically starts just after the top of the hour news break, so it will be 50 to 55 minutes of live sumo, with an ensemble cast of commentators including Murray Johnson and John Gunning.
During prior live broadcasts, Tachiai has live-blogged the matches. We are working out the logistics of covering two nights of sumo and staying sane.
Grand Sumo Live Times
04:00 AM Eastern (US)
03:00 AM Central (US)
02:00 AM Mountain (US)
01:00 AM Pacific (US)
A flooding disaster is unfolding across Western Japan. Evacuation orders are affecting over 1 Million people. Fatalities have been reported across Kyushu and Shikoku with more rain expected in Gifu, Shimane, and Ehime. Several cities have seen more than a month’s worth of rain in a few hours. The NHK is reporting, “The city of Uwajima in Ehime Prefecture saw about 364 millimeters of rain between and 5 and 7 AM. That’s about 1.5 times the average monthly rainfall for July.” That’s more than 14 inches of rain in two hours.
When evacuating, please be extremely careful, especially if flood waters mean you cannot see the ground in front of you. Sometimes manhole covers or parts of the road will get washed away. For any of our readers in Japan, stay safe. Also, many of those in Nagoya now come from areas affected by the floods and have loved ones there.
Meanwhile, dude rolls up in a jetski to help save people.
The Asia bureaus of Western media outlets are stretched to their breaking points as they simultaneously cover American Secretary of State’s visit to Tokyo and the rescue effort to save the Thai soccer team; no one is left to cover the catastrophic flooding which has ravaged Western Japan. And apparently the home offices are glued to the breathless reporting of current efforts to extract the team so no one is left to update their websites with information about this story.
It’s become a fixture of the sumo calendar for the English speaking world. With the opening day of the Nagoya basho just a few days away, NHK World brings us another preview of the tournament, along with highlights and features about sumo and rikishi. Fans are eager to see what new torture Raja is subject to, and what kind of discussion breaks out between Murray and John.
Make sure to tune in and enjoy it as its broadcast, or visit the NHK World web site to watch it via video on demand (works great on Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other streaming platforms).
Schedule (All Times US Eastern)
Friday July 6th @ 12:30 AM
Friday July 6th @ 04:30 AM
Friday July 6th @ 12:30 PM
Friday July 6th @ 06:30 PM
Coming this Friday, world wide – it’s time for another Grand Sumo Preview courtesy of the good folks at NHK World. As always, these programs provide a great amount of insight and commentary from the NHK staff. We can assume that we will get more rikishi one-on-one interviews, and possible a few media personalities being thrown around a practice ring while trying to look like they are enjoying themselves. Check your local listing or the NHK World web site.
This NHK World video features a biking tour around Aichi prefecture. Nagoya is the largest city in Aichi prefecture, so it is very important to sumo fans as the home of the July Honbasho. As the video shows, Aichi is also important to the production of “Tai”, sea bream, that wonderful red fish we associate with yusho, promotion, and celebration. Anyway, if anyone out there is planning a trip to Nagoya to see the tournament, chances are you’ll be looking for other stuff to do off-hours or on days that you aren’t able to manage tickets, so this video may give a few ideas.
Another important feature of this video is its focus on “craft”, monozukuri 物作り…literally “making stuff.” The concept is central to Japanese industry and life. We’ve seen that with the recent video Herouth pointed out that showed (among other things) how sumo wrestlers’ combs are made. I’ve been particularly interested in it lately, playing around with making whisky. My favorite part is malting barley. The smell of germinating barley is nice. In this video, there’s a factory making hamanatto…in a woman’s house. It’s so awesome.
As I find things like this around sumo venues, I’ll try to bring them to your attention so you find things to enrich any trips you make to Japan. I’d like to help others avoid “Lost in Translation” syndrome, having experienced it myself when I first moved there.
Firstly, the always fantastic Grand Sumo Preview program airs over the next 24 hours on NHK World. Make a point to watch it, as it’s always interesting, and features friend of Tachiai, John Gunning. I am curious which rikishi gets the special coverage this time, and if Raja is further abused in training. Details of when it airs here: https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/sumo/
But reviewing their schedule for the start of competition – it seems that The Great Sumo Cat of the Kokugikan has heard our cries for sumo from afar, and has used his considerable might and influence: NHK World will be broadcasting live on Day 1 for at least a subset of the Makuuchi matches. Yes, it’s the middle of the night. But for a group of hard-core fans like myself, it’s no bother at all. Tune in to NHK World and show them how much we love sumo, if you can. Sure it’s the middle of the night in the US, but think of the thrill of getting to watch Tochinoshin rock up against Takakeisho live, as it happens!
Yes, Tachiai is celebrating, this is a glorious upgrade for sumo fans. With apologies to my employers, I am going to be short on sleep for a bit.
Big news for former ozeki Baruto. He will be taking on the title role in a new drama on NHK called Ototo no Otto (弟の夫), “Brother-in-Law.” Those of you familiar with the kanji will be quickly clued in on why this is a landmark series – and it doesn’t really have to do with the fact that a foreigner is playing the title role. An alternative, literal translation is, “Little Brother’s Husband.”
In the US, this would be seen as rather tame. There are many gay and LGBT characters on TV and in movies. However, in Japan, especially the conservative NHK, this is a turning point. The description for Baruto’s NHK interview points out, “今までにない”, meaning until now, there’s not been a show of this type.
This is a big step for Baruto. He’s got Japanese citizenship and has been making his living as a TV talent and even recently he was giving MMA a try. But why is NHK introducing this show now? Personally, I think this series is being aired in preparation for the 2020 Olympics. The Winter Olympics in Korea featured many homosexual athletes so I presume there is a desire to normalize attitudes toward homosexuality before hosting the games. Western visitors are already accustomed to acceptance and could be seriously put off by having negative, discriminatory experiences.
The plotline is that Baruto plays Mike, the jovial Canadian husband of the lead character’s deceased brother. He goes to Japan to visit his husband’s brother, 弥一 (Yaichi?)…and awkwardness ensues. The awkwardness gives way to acceptance as Hisaichi’s daughter takes a shine to Mike. Perhaps sensing that this will be a bit of an adjustment for Japanese audiences, the lead role is Japanese and straight (divorced father) and the gay role is played by a straight foreigner who was a popular sumo wrestler. Breaking taboos is about baby steps. It also helps that the story comes from an award winning manga [hat tip to Herouth].
In Baruto’s interview, he was asked about food; he was a sumo wrestler after all, and stereotypes are really hard to break. 🙂 Apparently, food-related scenes play a big part of the new series so they asked him what was most memorable. He said that while on set he made chanko for the cast and crew and that his chanko is pretty darn good. So while it’s not something that’s actually a scene from the show, he’s proud of it because apparently everyone loved it. I’m hungry now and am going to go have dinner.
During Saturday, the sumo worlds, attention was once again focused on Tokyo’s Kokugikan for the NHK charity event. This is a yearly single day program that features elements of Jungyo, at least one rikishi interview, demonstration matches, dohyo-iri and lots of celebrity appearances with famous rikishi.
There was an interview with Tochinoshin, and the people attending were treated to photos of his wife and child in Georgia. As expected, Ikioi treated everyone to his truly talented singing voice, and even Mitakeumi had a song with idol band WaaSuta.
Reports are that the event was sold out, and parts of it will be shown in Japan on NHK-G next weekend. Sadly for us sumo fans outside of Japan, we have to resort to finding parts of it on YouTube.
The NHK World sumo team is brining us another 30 minute preview show, just before the much anticipated 2018 Hatsu Basho. Past episodes have featured insightful commentary, and in depth views of star rikishi. For sumo fans, it’s a can’t miss broadcast.
As with the rest of the NHK World line up, you can stream the program via a wide variety of mobile, set-top and web platforms.
Thursday, January 11th: 11:30 PM Eastern / 8:30 PM Pacific (5:30 AM UTC)
Friday January 12th: 3:30 AM Eastern / 12:30 AM Pacific (8:30 AM UTC)
Friday January 12th: 11:30 AM Eastern / 8:30 AM Pacific (4:30 PM UTC)
Friday January 12th: 5:30 PM Eastern / 2:30 PM Pacific (10:30 PM UTC)
Fantastic segment on NHK news today about former Sekiwake Kyokutenhō, and his position now of Tomozuna Oyakata. Fantastic segment and well worth watching, even if you can’t catch the NHK broadcast before they go into “Weekend Mode”.
As has become customary before a basho, NHK will assemble their group of commentators and experts to discuss the tournament. Prior installations of this show have featured some really interesting and useful segments covering topics such as “how to wear a mawashi”, and “How to go about getting day-of tickets”.
NHK GRAND SUMO Preview (US Times)
Nov. 9, Thu. 11:30 PM Eastern / 08:30 PM Pacific
Nov. 10, Fri. 03:30 AM Eastern / 12:30 AM Pacific
Nov. 10, Fri. 11:30 AM Eastern / 08:30 AM Pacific
Nov. 10, Fri. 05:30 PM Eastern / 02:30 PM Pacific
By extension this means that the preview video that is airing today on NHK World is available on demand now via the web site. The preview turned out really well, and includes a great Hakuho retrospective. Note Hiro’s remarks about Yoshikaze – his mobility and how he uses his feet being a essential element of his sumo.
As many of our readers know, I was fortunate to have an opportunity to travel to Japan for the first week of the Natsu basho this year. It was my first time back in Japan for 30 years, and it was quite a wonderful trip to make. I have promised Andy and others a recount of my adventures there, with tips for other sumo fans wishing to go. That should be posted soon.
But the first thing that hits me is the Japanese nature of sumo, and how it interlocks with the Japanese culture. Those of us who are not in Japan can get our sumo through both official and unofficial means. Official being the 25 minute daily highlight show on NHK World and the unofficial being the wonderful content on youtube.com from Jason’s All Sumo Channel, Kintamayama and One and Only.
Why is it the rest of the world only gets a subset of the bouts in Makuuchi? A hint came to me watching sumo live in the Kokugikan. The pacing is a tough sell to world sports fans that insist on rapid, continuous action. Most people who follow sports find things like baseball too slow, where nothing much might happen for minutes at a time. When the NFL recently started inserting more commercials into football broadcasts, it helped induce their catastrophic drop in ratings. When fans watch football (soccer) in Europe or rugby, the periods are non stop, no commercial festival of people running crazy on a big grassy field. Even then fans sometimes think it’s too slow and awkward – just give us the part where they try for a goal.
Sumo is a few seconds of combat surrounded by minutes of ceremony. Fans like those who read this blog are into the entire package, we dig the ceremony, we dig the build up to battle. We like that each day the intensity and stakes of the matches increase until we end our day watching the top men of sumo slugging it out for the championship.
Sitting in the Kokugikan, there were no announcers in Japanese or English. There is just you and sumo. No overlay graphics showing history, winning moves or the kanji if each rikishi’s shikona at giant size. This is what I would call “Actual” or “Organic” Sumo. Even watching the telecast on NHk with either english or japanese audio subtracts quite a bit from the organic experience.
I submit that this experience, either live or broadcast, does not translate well, and does not offer much appeal to average human beings or even average sports fans. If you “get” the ceremony, and feel the connection it has to the sport, you can and usually do become a sumo fan, and you chafe that these elements are removed from what is packaged and fed to us. It would be as if a great Western had cut out the story behind the gunfight, and just showed two men drawing their weapons in the middle of the street.
It is clear that sumo, as it is constituted right now, is made in Japan for Japanese people living in Japan. It’s not really exported in a form that would make it a world product. In fact, when discussing this with Japanese fans at the Kokugikan, they are completely baffled why foreigners want to watch sumo at all.
It was clear from the stands at the Kokugikan that Sumo has a global appeal, as the second floor chair seats were well populated with fans of European, African and Indian ancestry. But the men who run and control both sumo and the media spectacle that is packaged around sumo are only now starting to realize that there is a significant income and licensing stream possible outside of Japan.
Japan as a culture is very slow to change any traditional institution, and sumo is a very traditional institution. But the time has come for the NSK and the NHK to embrace sumo for the world. I would suggest the following steps
TheNSK should appoint/hire foreign language/culture liaisons. These people would ensure that education, outreach and licensing for sumo and sumo merchandise are set up in foreign countries. This could and should open the door for fandom to grow and flourish outside of Japan
TheNHK needs to package and make available an expanded sumo feed. I would suggest everything from the Juryo dohyo-iri to the end of Makuuchi. As NHK is now turning more to streaming for global content delivery, this could and should be a value add subscription delivered over streaming content systems. This would allow both NHK and NSK to judge if there is a market for sumo, and it would also make Jason and Kintamayama’s hard work to bring us expanded sumo coverage redundant. And let’s be clear, both NHK and NSK are working to find ways to limit and eliminate Jason and Kintamayama.
I urge them to take a page from the American playbook. If someone is beating you at what should be your own game, put them on the payroll, and let them teach you how to improve your product. Those world sumo liaisons? Jason is already in Japan, Kintamayama is fairly fluent in Japanese, and would be a great resource for advocating broader following of sumo world wide.
Are we likely to see any of this come to pass? Only if us fans urge NHK and NSK to start thinking bigger.