A Biking Tour of Aichi

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.

Bike Around Aichi

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.

NHK Rocks The Sumo World – Live Makuuchi Broadcast Sunday

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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.

Baruto Features in Landmark NHK New Drama Series

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.

NHK Charity Sumo Event

Ikioi Sings

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.

NHK Grand Sumo Preview – Friday

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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.

Show Times

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)

NHK Grand Sumo Preview – Thursday / Friday

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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

More information here

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/sumo/

NHK World Consolidates Grand Sumo Coverage

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Preview Video Available Now.

NHK World has come up with a nice, consolidated web page with links to all of the video from Grand Sumo Highlights, along with the preview.  You can check it out here

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/sumo/

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.

 

Back From Japan – Thoughts On Sumo

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Why Can’t It Be A Global Hit?

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

  1. The NSK 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
  2. The NHK 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.
  3. 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.

Sumo Wardrobe Malfunctions

When people find out I am a sumo fan, almost always the first question is – what happens when those big men lose their loincloths?

Japan is a very modest society, and the matches are broadcast live over NHK, so any wardrobe malfunction would be relayed in moments to millions of HD sets across Japan and the world.

Now thanks to two of my favorite rikishi, Ura and Amakaze, we can see first hand what happens when someone (in this case the XXXL Amakaze) has a critical mawashi (廻し) failure.  By 2 minutes in, the situation is evident. The corrective action – very sumo.

Fukuoka Dohyo Consecrated

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Preparations Complete For Final Basho of 2017

Via a tweet from the Sumo Kyokai, we bring you news of some of the final preparations for the upcoming November tournament.  As always Tachiai will provide close coverage of all the action for english speaking sumo fans.

Coverage starts tomorrow November 13th.  As always NHK world will be providing highlights, with more robust video coverage available on YouTube via these favorites:

Jason’s All-Sumo Channelhttps://www.youtube.com/user/JasonsinJapan

Kintamayamahttps://www.youtube.com/user/Kintamayama

 

Japan To Watch November Basho In 8K

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US Fans Still Left Begging

According to Yahoo News Japan, NHK will try out an eye-popping 8K technology broadcast during the Kyushu tournament from Fukuoka starting November 13th. This will be an advanced technology demonstration of what NHK is calling “8K Super Hi-Vision“.

While no one in Japan has an 8K set, NHK is playing back the tournament in select locations in Tokyo, no word if the Kokugikan will be one of them.

Meanwhile, US fans are getting by with 25 minute highlight shows that NHK is sharing with the world. Don’t get me wrong, these are much better than no sumo at all, but I maintain that NHK is missing a fertile market they could develop in sumo. Like most sumo fans in the US, I eagerly await the day that NHK will allow me to pay money to watch a more complete broadcast.

How To Watch Sumo In The USA

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NOTE: This is from 2016, but may be helpful to readers wondering where they can watch sumo. It will be top of the page for a few days. -Bruce

You may have noted two things in my writing for Tachiai – my love for Sumo and my frustration at my limited access to video of my current favorite sport. But if you are considering watching sumo from the United States, don’t despair. There are free and easy ways that you, too, can enjoy one of the worlds most interesting and compelling sports.

First to know, the national broadcaster of Japan, NHK, owns the rights to sumo broadcast. By and large, if it’s sumo, it’s on NHK. For a long time that meant frustration for most fans. While NHK generously provides a “NHK World” feed on some video providers, it was not offered on DirecTV or any cable provider I have had since I lived in Cupertino during the era of Akibono and Takanohana.

Now, in the modern era – we have an app from NHK World. This little marvel will allow you to stream video from the NHK World Service to almost any smartphone, tablet or even (my favorite) 4th generation Apple TV.

What – NHK world does not show the full 3 hour event that is the upper divisions of sumo. What we have instead is about 25 minutes of daily highlights from the current tournament (which happen in the middle of odd numbered months). You can watch highlights on the NHK World app at

When

12:30 PM Eastern / 11:30 AM Central / 10:30 AM Mountain / 9:30 AM Pacific
6:30 PM Eastern / 5:30 PM Central / 4:30 PM Mountain / 3:30 PM Pacific
12:30 AM Eastern / 11:30 PM Central / 10:30 PM Mountain / 9:30 PM Pacific

On their dedicated sumo web page, there is also video on demand, which makes it easy to watch matches when you want, where you want. For my family, we watch them via Apple TV, and it’s is a greatly anticipated household event.

If you have never watched sumo before, and you think it’s just two fat sweaty men in loincloths pushing each other around, you owe it to yourself to watch one of these summaries. Unlike US “Pro Wrestling” – this is the real thing, not scripted, no pre-determined. They battle with strength, courage and skill. At the end of the tournament, wrestlers with losing records are demoted, and wrestlers with winning records are promoted. Their rank determines their pay, so winning truly matters.

Join me in my favorite sport during September, you will probably be hooked and come to love sumo.

Sumo Highlight Show on NHK World

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A big thanks to reader Christ_OFF for pointing out that NHK World will start having a sumo highlights show. The page for the highlight show is here, or click on the picture above. They’ve got place holders for On-Demand videos for Day 1, Day 8, and Day 15. They also have a “Sumopedia” feature. The first is a brief explanation about the rank of Yokozuna. At the bottom of the page are links to more videos with sumo content. Among them are features on Osunaarashi and the sumo ushers.

One quick note: this content is being offered by NHK but I tend to think of NHK as an arm of the Sumo Association since every tournament is broadcast in Japan on NHK. I realize they’re distinct but I sort of view them, jointly, as the official word on sumo.

This is a good start. It is recognition of the sport’s foreign fans. I love the idea behind the Sumopedia. If successful, I’m sure they’ll work to expand the offering. There are a few key points that I hope they will address. First, they need to take advantage of the Web 2.0 model with rich, user driven content. As I noted in my rant about YouTube, this deepens the connection with the audience. Second, I hope the On Demand videos will be available for each day…this is a prime advantage of the YouTube and Vimeo channels since we can still go back at any time to watch great bouts. Third, I hope there are many more Sumopedia videos to come and I hope they offer more content and explanation.

I work for the US Government and manage a website and the databases behind it. Our website basically exists to provide safety statistics to the public. It was originally built two decades ago and unfortunately still retains that early internet, Web 1.0 model: we have content, we push it to users, very few avenues for feedback. I’m leading redesign efforts there to take advantage of the Web 2.0 model which makes sites like YouTube and Facebook so successful.

“Web 2.0” is the idea that user-driven content provides a richer experience. Critically, it depends on transparent, two-way feedback with users as a first step to better understand the needs of users. Allowing users to comment, and see the comments from other users, allows the content generator to not only fix problems and bugs, but also to steer the official content in a direction more suited to its audience. It’s an important piece of the Digital Services Playbook used by CIOs in the US Government.

Going beyond this simple open feedback to actually embracing user generated content is the next step. For example, there is a lot of great sumo data available at the SumoDB. If the NHK/JSA were able to leverage that dataset, again via Web 2.0 concepts, work with them to provide access to more data, both sites would actually grow and improve together. It gets hard when they become truly interconnected but that’s when we shift from having an “audience” to having a “community.” It doesn’t need to go THAT far to be successful but taking the first step and engaging users via transparent, two-way feedback (like having a comment section) is imperative. Otherwise, how do you know anyone’s actually being served? (Don’t mention statistics on page views or readers from things like Google Analytics. It’s so hollow. That provides helpful data, to be sure, but nothing’s more helpful and rewarding than actual feedback from your audience.)

As I noted above, I really hope they offer each day’s highlights on demand and I hope at least all makuuchi bouts are shown. We’re sumo fans. We know the people already and many of us have favorite wrestlers who are not necessarily in the top ranks. I hope they also show footage of promising upstarts, like Ura. It’s great to watch these guys grow. It’s also important to watch as the greats gradually fade away, too. Kyokutenho is a good example.

Lastly, it’s great to have basic explanations for newbies. But we’re die-hard fans. We know what the Yokozuna rank is. We know that the term yokozuna comes from the belt (tsuna) that they wear. That first version of the Sumopedia is good for the newbie. But we fans want more. We want to know the meaning of the different styles of dohyo-iri and the different ways of tying the belt: the turtle and the crane, for example. That video didn’t even mention any of this historic greats. Nothing about Taiho or the late Kitanoumi. It was great that they mentioned the yokozuna deliberation council but there is so much more. One more minute of content targeted to teaching even the most advanced fan, would be much more engaging.

I sincerely hope this is only a first step in trying to engage sumo fans. It’s an absolutely necessary, critical first step. Offering these highlight videos offers an opportunity to expand the sport to new fans. The background and context videos, likewise, will help educate new fans. Established fans, though, clearly need more. And that’s good. I just hope the NHK and JSA will keep up with the demand. It’s smart to do this first cut in English but I hope they will offer more content in other languages, too. French, German, Mongolian, and Portuguese would be a good start, no?

One policy that I will set out for this site is that if the Sumo Association or NHK has video of bouts, I will link to that content rather than to other channels. However, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that a lot of content will only be available in the YouTube fan channels so I want to be clear on that point. I will still link to and encourage fan participation and content on YouTube. I don’t expect NHK’s initial offering to meet the demands of us hard-core fans, yet. They’re finally acknowledging we exist with this show.