(Shinjinrui on Sumo)
by Chris Gould
frames repulsive. Whereas rikishi may seem shining symbols of strength
to older men, they appear cumbersome athletes to younger males who
adore K-1 and baseball. Unable to value sumotori in terms of sex-appeal
fighting prowess, and egged on by media increasingly preoccupied with
Celebrity, shinjinrui feel bound to judge sumotori on personality.
Predictably, they find little inspiration in the brief, monotonous
responses uttered by rikishi in post-match interviews, and in the fact
that wrestlers negotiate most bouts in an emotional void. They also
find it comical when sumotori catch themselves on the rare occasions
passion seeks to overwhelm them, pounding the dohyo in nerdy fashion
when defeated, and feebly pumping a fist in victory.
Tellingly, the sumotori by far the most popular among shinjinrui is treasured not because of his sumo ability, but because of his flamboyant dohyo personality. Ironically, though, he is the wrestler who most resembles a robot! Nearly every young Japanese has heard of Takamisakari, the man nicknamed Robocop because of a mechanical limp and a tendency to perform the shikiri-naoshi like a malfunctioning robot. It matters not to shinjinrui that Taka will never achieve greatness; the fact that he is bizarre in the ring, and listens to the Beatles outside of it, makes him acceptable enough. Second in the shinjinrui popularity stakes is Kotooshu, but only because his good looks have been compared to those of a footballer, David Beckham. The
In the second of a three-part series, Chris Gould examines the
difficulties that young Japanese experience in relating to sumo
personalities, and assesses how sumo might address such difficulties.
On January 22nd 2006, the famed English football club Manchester United toppled their arch-rivals Liverpool with a last-minute goal. The euphoric United defender, Gary Neville, failed pitifully to control himself and celebrated highly provocatively before the Liverpool fans. In a land where football authorities live in permanent fear of crowd trouble, Neville’s actions were heavily frowned upon, and he received a stern reprimand. But Neville’s angry response to his dressing down revealed the large extent to which footballers, and their supporters, thrive on the manifestation of pure emotion. ‘Do they want a game of robots?’ he inquired of the footballing authorities.
Neville’s words are particularly pertinent to present-day sumo. They appear on the lips of Japan’s shinjinrui, the ‘new race’ of under-30s, whenever they contemplate their ‘national’ sport. Shinjinrui are comfortable with Neville-esque outbursts of passion, and identify strongly with footballers, K-1 athletes and tarentos who are prone to them. They are thus deeply frustrated with sumotori who are bound by convention to restrain their
|emotions. They feel short-changed on
entertainment when a wrestler chooses to celebrate an adrenaline-pumping
victory by trudging meekly to his corner, or when his opponent takes
defeat incredibly politely and never queries the referee’s decision.
In shinjinrui eyes, such emotional restraint merely reinforces the image of sumo as a sport which is desperately out-of-touch with the world as they view it. Sad as it seems, young Japanese overwhelmingly perceive sumo as a surreal (if not nightmarish) community, overpopulated with dull, fat people who are obliged to swear allegiance to a redundant samurai tradition, and who are forbidden from driving cars, donning ‘normal’ clothes in public and marrying without their coach’s permission. Shinjinrui appear convinced that whereas top footballers and media personalities are to be fawned over, sumotori are merely to be pitied. (‘The younger ones wipe the older wrestlers’ bottoms, yes?’ said one.) It is these perceptions that the Japan Sumo Association (NSK) urgently needs to shift if it is to disprove allegations that sumo is ‘a game of robots.’
Sumo’s lack of emotion is far more irksome to shinjinrui than it was to their parents. Whereas many older women believe in sumotori sex-appeal, younger women generally find blubbery