Modernize the Heya –
Yea or Nay
Facilitated by Carolyn Todd
|young Japanese teen recruit has caused a big sensation since Kisenosato.
MD: That has all changed these last few bashos, where we have seen a growing number of “sensations” entering sumo. Just last basho we had three, and in the coming basho there are three that I know of. As for new recruits, the numbers are coming back up, as will be seen in March.
BS: Is not Tochiozan the first Japanese to make sekitori since Kise?
MD: No, he is not. Far from it. Unless you mean something else,you’re not seriously saying there were no new Japanese sekitori since May 2004…?
BS: I was referring to young Japanese teen recruits causing a sensation. I don’t know of any other Japanese teens who have made sekitori since Kisenosato, and Tochiozan is not exactly expected to be the new Japanese hope.
MD: The age is a factor? The “sensation”, as you call it, is the factor. And as I said, we have had a lot of those lately. Age is about as relevant as hair - it’s like saying we haven’t had a hairy Japanese entrant for a long time, and that’s really a reason to change heya life?
BS: But no Japanese is even expected to have a good shot at making ozeki this year, let alone yokozuna.
MD: Actually, no one is expected to, Japanese or otherwise, this year, given the
sumo heya system is unique in the world of sport, obliging rikishi of
all ranks to eat, sleep and train together in a community, with little
privacy and freedom. The rikishi cook and clean for themselves and
submit to a harsh training regimen, often involving corporal
punishment. How has this system survived into the 21st century and what
kind of young man agrees to such conditions? With sumo suffering a
slump in popularity, would numbers be boosted by relaxing the system to
make it more appealing to potential recruits? Or is it that the
traditions of the heya system attract the deshi most suited to the
rigors of sumo life and these traditions are more important than the
rikishi living according to them?
These are the questions we asked two in our community who were all too eager to share their feelings on the subject.
Moti Dichne is a native of Israel who spent much of his childhood in Tokyo. He says he was addicted to sumo even as a small boy. At that time he was fortunate to attend numerous basho and invented many sumo games while still very young. He is still deeply involved in sumo gaming. He maintains his own informative sumo site at http://www.dichne.com and also provides an invaluable
|service by translating sumo articles from the on-line Japanese press for the Sumo Forum and the Sumo Mailing List.
Bradley Sutton is a 28-year-old diehard sumo fan from Los Angeles, California. He became interested in sumo at an early age during his trips to Japan, and living in Japan for a few years. Because of his sumo fanaticism, he was recently featured along with Minaminoshima on an MTV documentary called "True Life." He current participates in amateur sumo in the United States, and has recently started a podcast news website on sumo at http://www.usasumo.net
Bradley, to start us off and set the scene, how do you see the current popularity of sumo?
BS: Well, sumo popularity, if not for Takamisakari's antics, and Kotooshu's sex appeal, would probably be non-existent (yes, I'm exaggerating). The NSK has done some things to try to shake this up. We have seen a "Demon" in the Kokugikan, celebrity guest appearances, increased koens around the world, NHK crowd shots focusing on younger people and foreigners. How well have these things worked? We do not know. But not enough. New recruits (outside of last basho) seem few and far between. No