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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hakuho's Go

Alone at the Top
There's a new boss in town. With Asashoryu's departure in March, a different Mongolian now holds center stage alone. Hakuho.

Hakuho has been in sumo in Japan for a while, long enough to rise to the rank of Yokozuna, grand champion. However, because he has been less flashy (read: controversial) he's been overshadowed by Asashoryu. Now, though, he has the top spot alone, and despite the fact that he, too, is a foreigner he possesses much more of the expected demeanor of an honorable Yokozuna.

Picking Up the Language
I saw an interview with Hakuho. My Japanese is a little rusty, but his was pretty rudimentary, and so I could understand a lot of what he said. Partially he spoke through an interpreter. He said a lot of the things, basically, that American athletes say after a game or a match. It kind of sounded like, "Yeah, I just give 100% out there and do my best, and the other guys are giving 100% as well." Blah blah blah. The sports cliches. Fun to know there are some universal things.

It surprised me to see the limitations of his Japanese, I guess. I mean, he has lived there a few years. I saw in interview with another foreign wrestler (maybe it was Baruto, I can't remember now.) It was shaky Japanese there, too. How could they live there so long, surrounded by it, and not just pick it up eventually? In Japanese the word for their language is "Nihongo." For short, my American friends and I called it "go." If somebody got better at Japanese we told them, "Dude, you have rocking go!"

Then I got to thinking, as hard as it was to pick up the language when I lived there, it would be much harder as an athlete. My little life in Japan brought me into contact with loads of people, and I ended up talking with Japanese people in Japanese all day long most days. In their cases (Hakuho's and others') the job is physical, and the language jargon a lot less varied. He likely doesn't have to make a lot of small talk with a wide range of people. He just does his wrestling, tries to figure out what the coach said, perhaps has an interpreter for parts of it, etc. My situation required me to spend an hour each morning studying the language--on top of the idle chit chat I practiced all day long. Still, in spite of incremental improvement, there were dozens of entire conversations I never even began to follow. It was pretty isolating at times.

Hmm, I bet for a lot of those foreign guys there, including Hakuho, it's pretty lonely, even at the top.

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