Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kanji time, boys and girls, get out your calligraphy pens

It's about time I did a little kanji lesson here. I'm no expert at the Japanese pictographs, but I did learn a few, mostly names at the time, while I lived there. They say there are about 6,000 in total, but about 20 years ago there was a governmental decision to narrow down the number to 1500 that would be required in order for a person to be literate, to be able to read a newspaper. Now, in literature and in older texts, many more are necessary, but 1500-1800 is pretty much the minimum.

I know nowhere near that many. I think at my peak I probably picked up about 250. Most of those are long gone from the old bean. It's something that's easy enough to study, though, because flashcards are available at bookstores for a reasonable price and someone could learn several hundred pretty well with effort if they wanted to. After a while you can see patterns in the hen-scratches, and certain things are clues to what the general meaning of the kanji is. Like I say, I'm not really up to speed on that...I just want to throw out a few beginner kanji today.

Here's my favorite one.
This is "ichi." It's pronounced "ee-chee." It means "one." Two is similar. It's one line on top of this, but a little shorter. Pronounce it "ni." Three is three horizontal lines, and it's "san." Four changes, though.

The symbol for man (or person) is like this:

It's pronounced "hito" with the accent on the second syllable. I remember it because it looks like two legs, like a person walking or standing.

Another good beginning one is "chu," which means center. It's also pronounced, "naka." That's the thing, though. There are often more than one or two readings for a single symbol, so reading the exact word gets kind of tricky. Still, if you know what the symbol means generally, you can get the drift of the meaning of the word even if you don't know the exact way to say the word. Here's "chu."

Chu means "center" or middle. If it's followed by the kanji for "country" (read koku or goku) it is the first symbol for the name of the county of China. This always strikes me as interesting because Japan itself calls China the "center country." It refers to itself as "Nihon," which is made of the two symbols that mean "sun" and "origin." Here's "sun."

So, if Japan is the country where the origin of the sun is, it's the "country to the east" and they aren't technically the center of their own culture. Strikes me as interesting. So, that's why the term "land of the rising sun."

Just a few factoids and a few kanji today. I'll post more another time. There's also a specific order in which the strokes are performed, but again, it's a topic for another day. For now, I think I'll ponder whether or not I'm the center of my own world or not, or if I'm somewhere off to the east or west.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Life of Luxury?

More evidence that sumo is everywhere, as soon as you start noticing.
My sis in law just notified me of a very funny starburst commercial with sumo theme. Ha.

I was thinking about how different the sumo life is from the life of a professional athlete in the United States. There are even TV shows (not that I've watched any, sadly) about lifestyles of the rich and famous and athletic. They live in mansions, drive multiple sports cars/SUVs, party hardy, etc.

By contrast, the life of the rikishi is truly ascetic. They sleep in a dorm type situation with futon mattresses on the floor. They don't eat breakfast (!)* They aren't allowed to drive cars. Their training is rigorous and year-round--no off season to "let themselves go." (Ha ha ha ha ha.) They have to do chores to earn their keep in the stable until they are promoted to the higher levels of the sport. They wear only certain, traditional clothing in public--including those painful looking shoes that must certainly hobble them to an extent. They have to eat what they're told.

I'm sure they do get out some. I saw a video recently of the (former) yokozuna, Asashoryu drinking and doing karaoke, but I'm told he isn't the pinnacle of sumo manners-perfection, either. Their lives aren't the fast lane of the American athlete.

Partially I would guess this is attributable to the fact that the sport is steeped in religious ceremony, history. Its roots are Shinto. The opening ceremonies, etc., are all Shinto related. The Japanese people I knew--very few were practicing Shinto. Most claimed to be Buddhist, and throngs hit the local temples during festivals and on religious holidays, but on the whole they weren't a particularly religious people on a daily basis. However, the old Japanese religion was still revered by the people I met, and it was everywhere in their architecture and weddings and culture--if not written on their hearts, per se.
Anyhow, to me the most important lesson I take from all this is: eat breakfast. If the tubbiest athletes on earth--tubby by design--are avoiding breakfast religiously, I should definitely make it part of my beginning to a healthy, thinner day. Yes? I think I'll use it on my kids when they want to skip it. "Sure, sweetie. You can skip breakfast. That's what the sumo wrestlers all do. And look at them!"


Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I think I remember an awesome Def Leppard song from the 80s called "Autograph." (And why couldn't those hair banders spell? Huh?) I never went to their concert or even wanted their autographs, and I'm pretty sure they're all driving minivans now and busy on the weekends painting lawn furniture with spray paint cans...

Autographs in the sumo world happen, like everything else sumo, big time. Instead of a mere signing of the name, the guys make an actual hand print with either black or red ink. It's called a tegata, which means hand shape. I don't know, but I'd guess they do it on rice paper.

This one belongs to Kotomitsuki, who (as of today) is the highest ranked Japanese wrestler in the lists. He's an ozeki east, "champion," ranked 4th overall. Only the top tiers of wrestlers are allowed to make and distribute the autographs. The squiggles on the side are the kanji (Japanese/Chinese characters) for the name Kotomitsuki. No, I can't read those particular characters, I'll freely admit. But don't they look cool? Here's another one (I grabbed it from wikipedia) with the red ink.

These are for sale at sumo matches, and originals can be pricey, but photocopies are for sale cheap. I have seen them on e-bay, even for big time champs like Konishiki.

I bet the ink gets on their kimonos. And I bet it's hard to get out in the wash.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Hmm. What to wear, what to wear

Sumo wrestlers have very limited wardrobe choices. Much like myself.

Whenever a sumo wrestler is seen in public, he must wear traditional Japanese clothing, either the yukata (which is the lightweight version of a kimono) or a regular kimono. This is required for the entire time he belongs to a stable. So, if a rikishi happens to go out clubbing and hits the karaoke machine, you won't see him in a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and skinny jeans. In a way, I guess, it's kind of a mercy.

For shoes, they must wear traditional Japanese footwear. The lower ranked rikishi wear geta, the wooden flat shoe with the strap between the toes like beach flip flops. The platform for the foot is supported underneath by two wooden, sideways slats, one at the ball of the foot and one near the arch. They're not the best running shoes, and some say they were invented to prevent runaway slaves. This makes sense that the lower ranked wrestlers would have to wear them, as they basically act as the slave-servants of the upper ranks. I guess you don't want your sweat-towel wielder to get any ideas of escape.

The upper ranks wear something more comfortable, like a slipper bootie thing. Ah, the perks of class.

I tried to walk in geta a time or two while I lived in Japan. They created this rackety feeling in the joints as I walked. It's probably much worse for guys who weighed three times as much as I did at the time. Ka-chonk.

I guess they have a variety of bathrobe looking yukata they could potentially choose from in their closets, but basically that's it. My heart goes out to the more fashion-minded of them. If there be such a thing. Bless their hearts.

Of course we all know about their "evening wear," the mawashi diaper of the ring. I found out today it is made of silk. SILK. Who'd'a thunk.

Oh, and yesterday I talked to my brother in Texas. TEXAS. He said a guy came up to him at a Boy Scout thing and was passing out flyers for a sumo class he was starting. The guy looked tall, but not sumo. I'm telling ya. It's everywhere. Even Texas.

Friday, June 4, 2010

In Case You Don't Have X-Ray Computer Vision

The text of the White Collar Sumo game is really super hard to read (since half of the graphic is missing!) on the post below. But it's worth re-typing here, in case anybody is in the mood for a rousing Friday afternoon match of office sumo.

"Office sumo is a face-off between two colleagues called rikishi, in a ring 6 meters in diameter (dohyo.) The circle is drawn with toner, and freshly shredded paper is spread over the ring after every bout. The rikishi will mount an office chair, his chest against the back of the chair. A rikishi loses the bout when he is pushed outside of the ring."

Many thanks to whomever designed this awesome game. Bless your heart, wherever you may be.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blog Traffic! Summer Treasure Hunters!

A hearty, sumo welcome to any blog readers who come my way via the "Summer Treasure Hunt" contest. Sumo. It's not the usual topic of conversation, I know. But...think. It could be!

I wish you all the best in your treasure hunting. Hope you win the prize of your dreams. I'm glad my one loyal follower, Jen in AZ, steered you my way. Bless her heart. If you find sumo strikes you as a thing to revisit, feel free to follow my blog.

I'm not really in this to become the "top blog in all the world." With a topic like this...I'm aware of my shortcomings. But sumo--it's coming into its own. Soon. I can feel the world is poised for it. You can be on the cutting edge by becoming a follower here!

Bah hahahaha.

Love y'all. Thanks a bunch for visiting. Domo arigato (Mr. Roboto--oh, honestly. Who doesn't hear that in their minds EVERY SINGLE TIME they hear the Japanese word for thank you? Please.)

Happy hunting!

Sumo...it could be everywhere, man

This afternoon I was talking with a couple of guys, and I happened to mention sumo. (How do these things come up? Because I'm obsessed? Probably.) It never ceases to amaze me that pretty much everyone out there has some (albeit distant mostly) connection to sumo. The one guy said his high school teacher just loved The Sport, and he showed his class clips from matches all the time.

Later, I dropped a kid off at Cub Scouts. The leader reminded me about a recent Shakespeare play made into a movie. Okay, not that recent, but in the last 4-5 years. This version of "As You Like It" was set in Japan, and in the background in some of the scenes (it was during the Victorian Age as a setting, if I remember right) there's some sumo wrestling going on.

I think my favorite episode of "The Office" was the work party where Michael makes the whole staff go to the lake for the work party and he rents the inflatable sumo suits, and Andy (fresh from management school, anger management, that is) ends up floating on his back in the suit, like a trapped, sunny-side up cockroach, floating away on the lake, calling for help and no one can hear and no one notices him as the sun goes down.

So it's like most things--it's everywhere once you start noticing it.

And believe me, I'm really starting to focus on this thing.

It's awesome.

Here's a clip of some of the Day 2 matches from the May basho (tournament) in Tokyo. It shows why ringside seats are probably not preferred. Risky spectator sport. Once I was at a rodeo on my hometown and the bull jumped into the crowd during the bullride at the end of the night. This reminds me of that.

Now that the May tournament is over, there won't be another official set of match-ups until July, and those will be held in Nagoya. Tickets are on sale already for that. In the meantime, the rikishi will be going on tour to the northern regions of the country, Aomori prefecture, Niigata, and other spots on the northern end of Honshu, the main island. From what I hear, the Aomori people are big fans, and historically a large number of sumo wrestlers have come from this small prefecture. I had a really good friend while I lived in Japan from Aomori, the town called Hachinohe. She in no way resembled a sumo wrestler. She was even shorter than I--and I'm towering in at five-foot-one. (Yeah, yeah, I fit in really well there. I could reach everything on the grocery store shelves! Yay me!)

The between-basho tour gives the lower ranked rikishi a chance to wrestle in public, and it gives the public who live in outlying areas a chance to see the champs up close and live. The results don't count toward any kind of ranking. It's just for show. It's called hana sumo, or flower sumo. Just for show.

Still, show or not, it would be fun to see.