Sumo Art on Display in Ryogoku

While Ura may have disappeared from the dohyo, his spectacle is still very much in the minds of sumo fans and artists.

Last night, I was tipped off on Instagram by cultured rikishi and occasional GQ model Ishiura that an exhibition of paintings from 21st century artists was currently taking place in Sumida. The exhibition lasts until the 12th of May at the Free Space Ryokuichi, a small gallery not far from Kokugikan. Miyagino-beya’s resident gym enthusiast implored his followers to check it out thusly:

So with these details in mind, I headed over to Ryogoku today. The gallery is easily missable, however there was a sign out front welcoming visitors. The official name of the exhibit is “Sumo-e Artists of the 21st Century,” and the handout at the door touted it as “a collection of sumo illustrations, created by diverse sumo-lovers in Japan, ranging from a high-school student to professional painters.”

A variety of artistic techniques are on display at the exhibition.

When I arrived, the friendly folks looking after the exhibit handed me a cup of tea and asked how I found out about it. When I mentioned that I had seen Ishiura’s post, they directed me to a sketchbook of Ishiura’s own work. It contained a number of his own drawings of his stablemates and stylised slogans in English. I did quite like his rendering of stablemaster Migayino (ex-Chikubayama):

Ishiura’s rendering of Miyagino-oyakata, from his sketchbook.

And Ishiura wasn’t the only rikishi to flex his artistic pedigree. Herouth noted Terutsuyoshi’s entrance into the world of sumi-e inkwork earlier in the week:

One of the great features of the event is that it not only credits the artists traditionally, but allows punters to also find new artists to follow on Instagram. Artist @oekaki_paradise created this beautiful set of Russian Dolls, and a bewitching Takayasu mobile which spins the hirsute Ozeki and his sagari as you pull the string:

Follow @oekaki_paradise on instagram to see more of their fantastic, creative work.

Many of our followers will be familiar with Twitter’s @color_sumo, and will be happy to know that their highly evocative work was also represented here. The incredible diversity of the styles and techniques meant that even though the gallery is quite small, it was easy to spend quite a bit of time studying various pieces. A collage of Hakuho, including kensho envelopes, hung over this painting of everyone’s favourite Mongolian horse-wrangler Ichinojo, which had one guest screaming “sugoi! sugoi!”:

Another work from @oekaki_paradise: Ichinojo tends to blow hot and cold in basho, but he is certainly on fire in this image!

Twitter user @changasano, meanwhile, had two excellent works on display. One was a piece featuring all of the sekitori in various themed costumes, and I quite enjoyed this rendering of a sleepy Kaisei being covered in a blanket by Tomozuna-oyakata while he dreams of his stablemates and the media (presumably after winning a yusho?!):

@changasano‘s Kaisei tribute, featuring a clearly moved Asahisho.

I always enjoy the work of instagrammer and artist @doskoikumasan whenever it pops into my feed, and they had an entire book of their work on display. Clearly they’ve been inspired by the latest wave of sumo elders, as Araiso and Oshiogawa were already well represented:

A couple of pages from the book of @doskoikumasan‘s works.

All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend a half hour on a Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, and the curators handed me a small cake on the way out, along with some postcards, as a gift of appreciation for my attendance. If you’re in Tokyo this week, be sure to check it out! If there are additional sumo artists whose you enjoy, feel free to share them in the comments section.

Sumo-e Artists of the 21st Century Exhibition runs until May 12 at the Ryokuichi Free Space in Ryogoku. It will be closed on May 7th and 8th, but otherwise is open between 1 and 6pm. Ryokuichi Free Space is located at 1-8-3 Midori, Sumida-ku.

While We Wait…

Yes, it’s true – I did not catch that the NSK was holding back the Banzuke until Tuesday AM Japan time. You can understand given that tradition plays a strong role in most things they do, that a rabid sumo fan would assume it would be published on Monday.

While we wait for it to actually show up, here’s a fun little video clip shared by Nicola Hetherington – a wonderful person and friend of Tachiai (she shares many, many basho photos with us).

Is That… Gagamaru on Drums?

Tachiai Giveaway: Sumo Playing Cards

Sumo Rikishi Playing Cards
Win this deck of Sumo playing cards!

One of the cool things about the sumo experience is the large array of merch on sale for attendees to snap up at their leisure. There are souvenirs ranging from cookies to towels to figurines to decks of playing cards, and more. And we’re happy to let our readers know that we’ve got an extra deck of those playing cards to give away!

How to enter: all we’re asking is that you share either of the below links to the latest Tachiai podcast on iTunes publicly, on Twitter or Facebook, and post the link to your shared post in the comments of this post. Then, we’ll randomly select a winner and send you the deck! Easy as that.

Share link to podcast on iTunes:立合い/id1233828207?mt=2
Share link to podcast on Tachiai:

As new decks haven’t yet been produced, the deck includes recently retired fan favorites like Harumafuji and Osunaarashi, so it’ll be a great “last chance” collectible if you’re a fan of those fellas. Sadly, it was produced before the ascension to sekitori status of Enho, so you won’t have luck finding him as the Ace of Hearts (a title that is, of course, bestowed upon Ichinojo)! Meanwhile, Nagoya-yusho winner Mitakeumi takes up the rock and roll mantle of Ace of Spades.

We’ll pick a winner at the end of August, so you’ve got until then to enter! We’ll send the prize to the winner in early September.

What It’s Like To Face a Rikishi

Often, those of us who pontificate about the skills of those who mount the dohyo will throw in a few qualifiers about the strengths and weaknesses of said rikishi: “If they could just add a yotsu-element” or “if they could just set their feet” or “if they could just maintain composure in the vital moment” are all things you’ll sometimes hear in the context of the development of a sumotori.

It’s why being a pundit is great fun. But it’s also easy to say, because it ignores the fact that there’s a whole other person in the dohyo with that rikishi. And usually, that other person is a whole lot of man-mountain to move. And usually, most of us spilling the ink can’t say from experience exactly what that’s like.

But equally, all of this enthusiasm and desire for sumo analysis has brought a new enthusiasm for professional, amateur and exhibition sumo around the world – especially the English speaking world, as we here at Tachiai have been fortunate to experience. While NHK World recently covered the USA Sumo Championships – one of the larger events in the amateur calendar – in their latest Grand Sumo Preview, all around America there are plenty more sumo exhibitions, and many of them feature some familiar names.

Recently, the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan hosted its annual Asian-Pacific Festival. As part of the festivities, the popular Byamba (the 33-year old former Daishochi of Shibatayama-beya, now a multiple amateur title winner) and Yama (the 34-year old former Maegashira Yamamotoyama of Onoe-beya) descended on the town to take on each other as well as some locals.

Following the event, I connected with Christopher Acklin, a Grand Rapids local who was able to fight Yama in the ring. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the experience:

Tachiai: How did you find out about sumo coming to Grand Rapids?

Christopher Acklin: I’m pretty lucky. At my firm, we have a fairly diverse crowd. One of the partners knows the organisers of [the event]. One day she said, “Hey! Would you like to go as our representative? You can invite some people and get to experience this event” So I said “Sure, I’ll go.” I was planning on going to Japan in September, so I felt this would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the culture and one of the more unique cultural aspects of Japan. Later, [the partner] said “they’re going to do celebrity matches – would you be interested?” And I said: “Why not?” If you’re going to go, you might as well go all the way. I started doing a little research and I watched some of the old Grand Sumo tournaments, which caught my eye, because it’s amazing – the tradition behind all of it, the preparation and effort that they take, and the style too. I do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, where balance is important, and I was noticing that balance is so important for sumo. In an Americanized way you think “oh, well these aren’t athletes,” but then you see them in action and it’s not just their size, but their ability to balance and their speed – it’s pretty impressive, which I got to find out first-hand.

Tachiai: When you signed up, did you get to pick who you fought? How did that work?

CA: When I went up, they had three guys. So I said, “I might as well go for the gold” and go for the biggest guy they had there [which was Yama]. I’m about 300 pounds, I’m pretty strong… and when we actually faced off, it wasn’t even as much the size difference that got my attention – still, he’s twice my size – it was his ability to move with my movement that surprised me. I’m thinking, “he’s just a big guy, how much is he going to be able to move?” He shifted his feet immediately and so I instead of pushing just dead-on on him, I’m pushing off to the side, my force was going off to the right and I didn’t have a clean shot on him. And he was good about it after that, he just kind of let me push him out, but clearly this was only because he was allowing me to do it at that point.

Tachiai: What is that even like when you’re trying to push a guy like Yama – the biggest guy?

CA: The organizer explained to me later, that although there’s a lot of fat there, it makes it very difficult to get a solid hand hold or grip anywhere. I’m trying to push him and my hands are moving on me, so it’s hard to get force when your force is moving in different directions. Combine that with him being able to shift his feet, all of the sudden instead of trying to push a boulder, I’m pushing up against a pillow or a water mattress – I’m not getting anywhere!

Tachiai: So, when you step into the dohyo and you see that guy: what are you thinking? Like you said, he’s twice the size of you. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind?

CA: Actually, my first thought was that he was really cool. He gave me a handshake at first, he was chill. I like to push myself, so that made me feel that this would be a fun test, it would be exciting. Afterwards, he was very polite and very pleasant, but when you first see him, you’re like, “Man! What did I get myself into? Well… alright. Now I’m here, I might as well make a good show of it!” And he was cool: I didn’t see, because I was busy pushing, but apparently he was posing for people out in the crowd while I was pushing him. Which basically says he was very polite and it could have been much more difficult had he actually [had to try]. Even without him trying, trying to push him was incredibly difficult.

Tachiai: What else did they do at the event? Was there any kind of tournament?

CA: They had a mini-tournament with the three sumo wrestlers. They explained the rules with the scoring, and how that worked. Byamba ended up winning the mini-tourney, and they had a more traditional opening with the drums. They didn’t do the whole ceremony with with the [salt-tossing], and I liked that they explained that, and that you get a sense that this isn’t like [American] wrestling, there’s actually symbolism and history and tradition to it.

Tachiai: Thank you for sharing your story with us! I think you chose wisely – out of all those guys of course, Yama’s the one who made it to the top division.

CA: More than happy to. I was so excited just to get the opportunity – how often can you say that you’ve partaken in something like doing a sumo match, but to do it against somebody like Yama, who has the pedigree that he had. Now I can say that at some point in my life I stepped into the ring with somebody that big, who’s been that successful.

Check out some video of Christopher’s match against Yama below:


(video provided courtesy of Christopher Acklin)