America’s pasttime has been tarnished a number of times by inappropriate behavior. Japan’s national sport, sumo (相撲), sometimes carries a negative reputation in America, but rather than scandalous behavior, it is related to appearance. Many times I have heard people derided sumo as being silly and labelling it as fat men rubbing their bellies together. In fact it is a deeply involved and ritualistic sport which is no sillier than any other kind of wrestling. Also, the athletes are in tremendous condition in many ways.
That being said, let’s take a look at a few examples of the kind of men that have helped generate this reputation. This first image I titled Mammaru (真ん丸), which can mean “complete” or “total”, but usually means “perfectly round” or “rotund”. Clearly he is carrying a tremendous amount of extra weight around the chest and belly. In his defense: he is flexible enough to turn his feet out almost 180 degrees; he dropped his butt almost to the floor when he squatted; and he is blurred in this shot because he is standing up so fast. Pretty impressive.
Our next subject towered over his opponent. You can see the loser has a pained grimace because he is being bent over backwards, his elbows are locked in and his shoulders are being crushed together. The judge in the background, a former wrestler, is nervously leaning away from the probable landing zone. There are no safety ropes like boxing, and they routinely tumble down from the ring. I forgot to note the weights of these fighters, but the current range of the upper ranks goes from 106 kg to 232 kg. Some of these guys are probably tipping the scales a little more than that.
And for the flip side of the coin. Have a look at Takanoyama (隆の山), born in Czechoslovakia as Pavel Bojar. You can click through to Flickr and see his chiseled back a lot closer up. When he first came to Japan he had to face some opponents more than three times his weight. He’s beefed up a bit, but he still needs another 20 to 40 kgs to throw around if he wants to get promoted to the top ranks. At the top ranks of this sport the regular winners are often much leaner than your average football lineman. Perhaps I will write a little about sumo in the future, but I probably won’t see a live tournament before next March.