With the first Sumo basho of the year just a few days away now, I crossed paths tonight with this wonderful ii timingu (good timing) find:
It’s by one Jacob Adelman, a grad student at UC Berkeley who has just spent a couple of weeks at Hanaregoma Beya in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward, not with the purpose of becoming a professional sumo wrestler but just to write about it for his Master’s thesis, and write about it he has done for the last 3 weeks in this blog. As Adelman explains it in his first post:
The idea for this project, like many things in my life, was born out of laziness. The two masters’ degree programs I’m inójournalism and Asian studiesóeach require me to write a thesis. When I started considering thesis topics, I tried to think of something that I could count for journalism and Asian studies, thereby saving myself the trouble of writing a second thesis. Everyone I ran the idea past was intrigued by it, though no one thought I might actually get a sumo “stable,” as the training houses are called, to let me in.
Through some tenuous connections Adelman is eventually allowed to temporarily join the Hanaregoma Beya. He is clear with his hosts as to what he’s up to (and even had he not, his uh, not exactly sumo-ish build would’ve let the cat out of the bag fairly quickly), and as he himself notes, it seems that many of the wrestler’s in the stable are eager to chat. And while Adelman originally had wanted to be treated as a rookie within the stable, in effect he was treated as a guest, and therefore had access to parts of the heya (and conversations with some of the rikishi) that most rookies will never have.
Adelman has used a blog to host his writings of the experience so as such, you’ll have to go to the December 2004 archive and scroll to the bottom to read the first post and then up from there if you want to read the story from beginning to end (seems he’s now left the heya but hasn’t written that post yet). I’ve made my way through about half of it and not only is it rather entertaining, but it gives good insight into the inner goings-on within a heya, the harsh conditions the rikishi (sumo wrestlers) live in (especially the lowest ranked among them), and the stratified atmosphere where the heya’s lone sekitori (salaried wrestler) verbally abuses the underlings as part of his de facto job description. (Adelman doesn’t mention him by name but this is Ishide, who won the Juryo yusho (championship) at the November basho in Fukuoka.) As Adelman writes,
I’ll bet that, once you get to know him, the Sekitori probably isn’t even such a bad guy. He probably spends so much time holed up alone in his room because he gets tired of being a creep. Being responsible for the torture and humiliation of a sprawling house full of overweight jocks is hard work. But it’s part of his job description and the prerogative of his rank.
If you have the slightest interest in the sport of sumo or in Japanese culture, I highly recommend reading some of Adelman’s posts. These aren’t your usual snippet blog posts either, each one is more or less an article unto itself. I look forward to reading the rest of it (particularly intriguing is some yakuza-ppoi character named “Iki” that drops into the heya from time to time) and seeing what conclusions Adelman has come to after his journey.
The above photo, just to be clear, does not depict any rikishi from Hanaregoma Beya but rather Kotonowaka (right), the elder sekitori of Sadogatake Beya (talking with his taller but rather young heya mate Kotooshu, from a jungyou (exhibition Sumo event) I attended last October. If you click on the above photo you’ll be taken to a gallery of photos I shot at this event that I recently uploaded.