thursday sumo: old school stereo

Back in October (when the Elephant was hibernating), Pink Tentacle posted a set of wonderful animated stereoviews by early Japanese photographer T. Enami, including this one of a handful of rikishi displaying their kesho-mawashi:

(Click through to check out more of Enami's photographs, and other shots of vintage sumo and other scenes of old Japan, from Flickr user Okinawa Soba.)

It’s a fascinating combination of stillness and motion, depth, and not-quite-natural color.  Also, the dude on the left moved during the exposure, dooming him to an eternity of ghostly half-existence.  Scary.

For our edification, I also decided to do a little ImageReady work so we could check out the embroidery in more detail, which is not a phrase I ever expected to type:


thursday sumo: big goings-on

I tend to watch sumo tournaments on a time delay–that is, I download them, and make my way through the thirty hours worth of video where I can, usually while doing dishes.  When I’m catching up, I tend to avoid sumo news sites for fear of spoilers.  As of right now I’m only on day six of the January basho, but when sumo news makes it onto BoingBoing, I figure I should come out of my hole and check for my shadow.  This week, we get a double header:

First off, after an incident in which Asashoryu allegedly punched a dude in the face during a bout of extreme drunkenness, the yokozuna has announced his retirement.  The news feed at Sumotalk has a fine account of the details of the altercation, and its aftermath, so I’ll leave the technicalities to them.  I’m sad to see him go–he was a dynamic, powerful figure who, despite his attitude problems, brought a lot to the sport–but given the stoic, traditional culture that exists around Japan’s national sport, there isn’t really another path.

My main curiosity is: what does this mean for the sport?  The two yokozuna have been completely dominant for years now, to the point where there’s no real candidate to fill the vacuum at the top level.  Only two of the ozeki, Kotooshu and Harumafuji, have recent tournament wins, and both have been inconsistent at best.  Still, there will be pressure on the Sumo Association to fill the vacancy, and with the recent withdrawal of Chiyotaikai, I expect we’ll see some unusual movement at the top of the rankings.  Perhaps Asashoryu’s absence will make it a little easier for somebody-or-other to really shine?  Kisenosato, I think we’re all looking at you, here.

Meanwhile, in less punchy news, Takanohana-oyakata seems to have staged a coup, sidestepping the Sumo Association’s normal political process and getting himself elected to the board of directors (normally, elections are perfunctory, and members are selected by their own ichimon, or collection of training stables).  This has caused a great deal of murmuring amongst the various coaches, council members, and stable heads, with those who voted for Takanohana being branded traitors (again, Sumotalk has better details than I can provide).  It’s difficult to say. especially as an outsider and a foreigner, what impact this will have, but, schismatic that I am, I think this shake up may bring a new energy to the Association, and hopefully help them cope with the loss of a great, if troubled, yokozuna in a creative, intelligent way.

Or maybe it’ll look like this:

(you guys may recognize Akebono from that Glee commercial from last week.)

big man sings Journey (uh, thursday sumo? sure.)

Yes, that’s yokozuna Akebono in this ad for the Japanese release of Glee. (via Neatorama)

thursday sumo: he’s toyotomi hideyoshi

File:Asashoryu and Hakuho glare at each other 2008 May.jpgYokozuna Asashoryu (朝青龍) is a controversial figure–the Mongolian Grand Champion has a well-deserved reputation for being brash, even disrespectful, but the last few tournaments have proven that fans, Japanese or not, will fill stadiums to see him fight.  However, despite what some perceive as his attitude problems, he often exhibits surprising kind-heartedness, both on and off the dohyo, as evidenced by this encounter at the recent Soken keiko session:

The moment generating the most buzz came afterwards when Asashoryu walked over to YDC member and perceived enemy Makiko Uchidate and wished her well after her illness and heart surgery performed last December. Uchidate has been out of the public spotlight for most of the year, but cameras flashed as the Yokozuna said, “Sensei, you had me worried there. Are you doing okay? I’m glad you’re getting better.” Asashoryu gave Udate a light hug causing her to comment to reporters afterwards somewhat in jest, “He’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi,” a term used by women in Japan to refer to heroic men they are in love with.  

 (from SumoTalk, linkage mine)

(Asashoryu vs. Ozeki Kotomitsuki, January 2004, day 10)

(This is a nice CNN interview with the Yokozuna, in three parts: here’s two and three, or you can just click through.  And yes, it is still technically Thursday–I never said I’d be prompt.)

thursday sumo: the first of the great hawaiians

Takamiyama (高見山) was the first foreigner to win a top division sumo tournament, and the first of a line of Hawaiian-born wrestlers who would be a presence in the sport until the early 2000s, including several Yokozuna.  After his retirement, he would go on to become the first foreign-born head of a stable, Azumazeki-beya.

Though he never broke through to the rank of Ozeki, Takamiyama’s top division career spanned sixteen years, during which he earned twelve kinboshi and eleven special prizes, and regularly scored double-digit wins.  The Cal Ripken of sumo, he never sat out a tournament until he was forced to retire due to injury in 1984, and prior to that, only once withdrew early, in 1981.

Youtube highlights are sparse, but here we go:

(vs. Asahikuni (旭國), Nagoya 1972)

(vs. Yokozuna Wajima (輪島), Haru 1974)

(vs. Yokozuna Kitanoumi (北の湖), Aki 1978)

(note the killer sideburns)

thursday sumo: the wolf’s run

Chiyonofuji (千代の富士) is considered one of the great Yokozuna for a reason.  His 31 championships over a sixteen-year career (ten of those years as a Grand Champion) made him an exemplar in the sport, and his small frame and intense skills earned him the nickname “The Wolf”.

In 1988, he began a fifty-three bout winning streak, the second-longest in sumo history, that comprised two perfect tournaments, and fell just short of a third, and oh look here it is:

(action starts at about 1:03)

thursday sumo: Hakuho’s 10

NHK did a nice little clip recap after Yokozuna Hakuho (白鵬) won his tenth championship last month.  It’s a great collection, some of these matches are really astounding:

(Ring commentators: Hiro Morita and David Shapiro)

Matches 1, 3, 6, and 9 are especially impressive, and 2, while a disappointing bout, is priceless just for the expressions of Yokozuna Asashoryu (朝青龍)–you can see an initial spark of rage, quickly giving way to a bemused respect, with just a hint of vengeful malice (Asashoryu is always good for some classic facial expressions).

I don’t know if Hakuho will ever match Asashoryu’s twenty-some-odd championships (this may depend largely on the performance of Asashoryu himself), but he’s definitely good for at least sixteen or so.  At this point, there doesn’t seem to be much standing between these two men and complete dominance of the sport.