in the shadow of giants

After visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum (which I wrote about in a previous post) we dropped in at the nearby Sumo Museum. The Sumo Museum is one long room inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the main sumo hall for the Grand Sumo Tournaments in Tokyo.

There’s minimal English explanation throughout the exhibit but if you’re familiar with some sumo history, you may be able to identify some of the costumes and accoutrements. Otherwise it’s a lot of over-sized clothing and interesting but perplexing objects.

I liked the old bansuke banners, illustrated rankings of the wrestlers during the 19th Century. Even more cool are the portraits, illustrations and photographs of every yokozuna, or grand champion, that line one of the walls. Currently there are two yokozuna, both Mongolian. The haughty, dominating Asashoryu mixes sheer power with perfect technique. And the fearless upstart with the baby face, Hakuho, blends speed and determination.

Currently there are many Mongolians and Eastern Europeans in the ranks. It seems to be a concern among traditionalists. But it couldn’t hurt to expand the global fan base of a sport that is virtually ignored by the younger generation. There’s one high level Korean wrestler, Kasugao. I couldn’t find any information about how he became a rikishi, or wrestler. I usually follow his matches and root him on. Gotta cheer on a brotha.

My favorite rikishi is another Mongolian, Ama, an undersized and slim competitor (for a rikishi anyway), but a skillful wrestler. He’s viewed as an underdog, even though he’s one of the top-ranked, because he’s smaller than almost all his opponents. Even so, he’s 185cm/6’1” and 124kg/273lbs. Although, when I first started following his career two years ago he weighed under 100kg. His demeanor comes across as humble, with his pock-marked face and restrained manners.

Here’s a video clip of one of Ama’s matches. It gives you a good taste of the kind of power, speed and quickness necessary to succeed. These are basically football linemen brutally pounding, slapping, pushing, throwing and flipping each other without football pads or helmets. Ama is the one with the brown belt.