The electronic goods business belonging to Mr. Joshi necessitated occasional visit to Japan.
It was on one such visit that he was taken by My Sano, his Japanese host, to watch one of the bouts of the Grand Sumo Tournaments which was held in Tokyo each January.
Mr. Joshi had always imagined, as many people do, that the Japanese are rather small and wiry. This is certainly not true of their sumo wrestlers. These men are like giants and they normally weigh 127 to 190 kilograms and often stand 1.8 meters tall.
They watched as the two wrestlers sat and glared at each other. “Why are they behaving like that?” he asked his guide.
“They wish to strike fear in the other’s heart,” he was told.
Four minutes of this glaring went on, this is the maximum time allowed and it is said that the best of the “glarers” practically win their fight before they even get started!
Before the “glaring” the opponents had entered the ring, clapped their hands to summon the gods, stamped their feet to drive away the demons and then scattered salt to catch any evil their feet might have missed, Having arrived a little late, Mr. Joshi had missed this crucial part of the opening ceremony.
With wide excited eyes, the spectators watched the two wrestlers, like mighty bulls, striving against each other. Their sheet bulk and strength left Mr. Joshi quite breathless and spellbound.
On the way home he was surprised to hear that his host was a distant relative of the renowned stable master Azumazeki. “Yes,” he said, trying to keep the pride out of his voice, “Tomorrow you will witness the final about of the tournament. I am sure Akebono, who is in fact Hawaiian, will win the match. He is Azumazeki’s entrant.”
“I never realized that foreigners were allowed to wrestle here in Japan.”
“Since the end of the World War II, eight-seven foreigners have entered the tradition-bound world of sumo, but only nine have reached the top makuuchi division. Akebono came to Japan in 1983 and joined Azumazeki’s stable.”
“You’ve used this word ‘stable’ and ‘stable master’ before; to me it sounds like horseracing!” Mr. Joshi laughed. His host was not amused.
“In Japanese we use the word ‘heya’ which, literally translated, means ‘room’, however, in English it is called ‘stable.’ Young wrestlers and unmarried older ones live there too.
All train and practice many hours each day so that they can improve their win-loss record.”
“I suppose you could say that sumo wrestling is your national sport.”
“Easily,” agreed Mr. Sano, “and sumo dates back some two thousand years. It is a combination of sport and religious ritual.”
“My son Ketan is very interested in the martial arts. I must take some books back with me, preferably the ones with plenty of pictures.”
Two months after Mr. Joshi returned home to India, he received a most unusual letter from Japan. Would the Joshis like their son Ketan to visit Japan for two weeks as the guest of Tojomatu Sano? Tojomatu was Ketan’s age and would love to meet a boy from India. The time was almost perfect; Ketan’s final examination were in March and then there was a two-week break before the new academic year. Mrs. Joshi was a little apprehensive, Ketan was ecstatic and Mr. Joshi felt it was time his son learnt how the rest of the world functioned.
By the time passport and visa had been arranged, Ketan had leared a few vital phrases in Japanese. Especially the important words like “please” and “thank you.” “The Japanese are very refined and cultured people and very, very polite,” his father warned him.
Young Ketan discovered hoe polite he would have to be when he met by Tojomatu himself at the airport. Tojo, as he was called, was thirteen year old, but he appeared to be twice Ketan’ sheight, and at least twice or thrice his weight. Ketan tried hard not to show his surprise, but his eyes bulged at what, to him, was a laughable sight. He bowed three times as he had been taught by his father and was caught off balance when Tojo folded his hands in a respectful manner and said, “Namaste” and in perfect Hindi continued to ask about his fight and his parents. Ketan was glad he had learned a little Japanese and was waiting for an opportunity to try out some of his phrases on Tojo. As they rod home, Ketan tought, “Gosh, what a … a … fatty! But I do like him already.” Ketan was right. Tojo indeed appeared to be the usual overfed, out-of-condition “fatty.”
But he wasn’t. Tojo was, in fact, a budding sumo wrestler! Ketan was very excited when he learned this and over the next two weeks of his visit he realised that food was an important part of the sumo’s life. They have to eat gigantic meals to build up their already massive bodies. They eat as much every day as average Japanese would eat in a week. They consume a potluck stew called chankonable which contains vegetable, meat and fish.
Ketan, experiencing some jet-leg, was still asleep next morning, but Tojo has been up at four o’clock. He had to make ready the “ring” before the other arrive at five or even later, to practice. Some arrived as late as eight. These were the higher ranking sumo and they were permitted to sleep longer.
Interested in what the object of sumo was, Kenta questioned Tojo closely. (He discovered that the boy knew English, French, Hindi, and German and was now learning Spanish!) Tajo explained that a wrestler has to force his opponent out of the fifteen-foot centre circle which is marked by a straw placed on an elevated cement-hard clay ring. Or, he should cause him to touch the surface of the clay ring with any part of his body other than the soles of his feet.
Kenta’s respect grew for the boy he had laughed at privately as a “fatty’. Tajo’s strength was awesome and the special exercise he did designed to improve his agility and balance and to increase his strength. He would sit cracking walnuts effortless, gently picking out the sweet kernel and placing them on a lacquered tray politely offering them to Ketan. Out of the ring Tojo was an amiable and lovable lad and Kenta found it difficult to believe that this gentle giant was a sumo wrestler. His own interest in the martial arts reached new height. He knew the Japanese were also famous for several kinds of wrestling including judo, ju-jitsu, taikwando and his special love, karate. In these latter-named, size simply does not matter as it does in sumo, for the skills in special ways of holding or hitting an opponent, or catching him off balance throwing him to the ground.
Mr. Sano took the two lads to a gymnasium to watch the karate lessons in progress. Both boy and girls were there and all were deadly serious about their practice. Ketan made up his mind that he would enroll himself in a karate course as soon as he returned to India.
When they walked the roads, Ketan came to realize that sumo wrestlers are highly thought of in Japan. The best of the wrestlers are treated by the public like film stars. They can be recognized in the street by the distinctive clothes they wear, kimonos and wooden sandals. They tie their hair in a special top-knot as Japanese warriors of old.
When the two friends bade farewell to each other at the airport, Ketan told Tojo, “I know that one day you will attain the rank of yokozuna, and I shall be in Japan to see that happen, I promise.”
They shook hands informally. Ketan’s hand quite lost in Tojo’s huge paw. “Do you not feel drawn to the life of the sumo?” Ketan shook his hand. A naughty twinkle lit up Tojo’s eyes, “when I first met you I thought you looked like a thin little chicken!” Ketan did not retaliate. He really had learned to be polite even with a comfortable friend!
If both boys could have looked into the future they would have been quite happy and surprised to see a Ketan who was over six feet tall, and a Tojo, shorter and three times heavier with a face like a contented, happy, chubby baby. Both experts in their chosen sport and forever good friends.