|Admittedly, elephants are not used here to provide a connection with The Elephant Story but to metaphorically describe sumo wrestlers in a dohyo which is the circular ring wherein two wrestlers attempt to bring their opponent to the ground or throw them out of the ring. In both cases of elephants and sumo wrestlers, you have creatures which are immense in size though quite strong and agile.
The Japanese sport of sumo wrestling began hundreds of years ago and has deep roots in Shinto religious rituals. In fact, the original sumo wrestlers were likely samurai who needed to find an alternative source of income. The woodblock print shown below reflects a scene circa 1851.
Some ten years later another woodblock print was made of a sumo wrestler tossing around a foreigner.
At this point in time, the relationships have been reversed and the Japanese sport is dominated by Mongolian wrestlers. The Mongolians have a different native type of wrestling which is one of “the three manly sports.” However, they have a body stature and strength that tends to give them an advantage over Japanese sumo wrestlers as well as other foreigners who throw their hats into the dohyo.
There have been two highly recognized Mongolian yokozuna or grand champion wrestlers of whom the author has personal knowledge. Asashoryu was the first Mongolian to reach the grand champion tier in 2003 and retired in 2010 following an alleged late-night assault outside a Tokyo bar. He had a long history as a street fighter in Mongolia and the story is his father put him into a sumo program to rid himself of the headache. At six feet tall and 340 pounds, he was a formidable fellow. Once on an Air Mongolia flight he stood and grunted a few words to a lawyer seated across the aisle with whom I had been wrestling with over a transaction. The lawyer asked what he should do and the response was move and do it quickly. Asashoryu was always given two seats.
On the same flight was a younger Mongolian fellow by the name of Hakuho who carried Asashoryu’s Louis Vuitton man bag and was relegated to one seat in coach. Hakuho’s father was a legendary Mongolian-style wrestling champion who the author once had the privilege of joining in a wolf hunt in the dead of winter on the Mongolian steppes. At this juncture, the roles would be reversed as Hakuho recently won his record 1,048th sumo match thereby claiming more victories than anyone else in the history of the sport.
Hakuho lost some of his following in Mongolia when he married a Japanese girl to the dismay of all the young unmarried girls in Mongolia. On the other hand, he was immediately propelled into the top ranks of sports figures and celebrities in Japan which greatly enhanced his earning capacity. A grand champion’s salary is something on the order of $500,000 per year. It pales in comparison to those of professional sport’s figures elsewhere. On the other hand, winners receive sponsorship envelopes that can add up when they are of the size that Hakuho has in his hand below.
The envelopes can contain cash, food or drink coupons or just about anything fungible. A Mongolian friend who represented several sumo wrestlers would charge people to meet with them. He said his clients were, on balance, a pretty stupid lot of uneducated guys. Since they begin sumo training at a young age, there is no time for an education.
However, when they are circled around the dohyo, it is a very impressive site. Although sumo may not be as exciting as elephant polo, it is a great way to see a very ritualized sport while having a cup of sake. However, do not take your eyes off the dohyo for more than a few seconds or you will miss all of the action.
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