Kotoshogiku says Japanese sumo wrestlers not greedy enough


Japan’s giant sumo wrestlers lack the mean streak needed to repel the flood of foreigners who have dominated the roly-poly sport in recent years, according to the country’s first homegrown champion in a decade.

Kotoshogiku, who last month ended an excruciating wait for a Japanese-born winner, said Tuesday it was no accident that Mongolians had taken over Japan’s ancient sport over the past decade and a half.

“All the Japanese wrestlers want to win championships,” the 32-year-old told a news conference.

“We eat the same meat and vegetables as them,” he added. “But sumo is about winning. Maybe we Japanese are too set in our ways, maybe we lack the greed to win at all costs.”

The foreign invasion began in earnest with Hawaiian behemoth Konishiki, who was nicknamed the “Dump Truck” and tipped the scales at a whopping 285 kg, and other hulking Pacific islanders in the 1990s.

But the subsequent rise of the Mongolians, led by the brilliant but temperamental Asashoryu and latterly by Hakuho, who has racked up a record 35 Emperor’s Cup victories since 2006, has tormented sumo traditionalists in the absence of a serious Japanese challenge.

“We can learn from them,” insisted Kotoshogiku, wearing a grey kimono and perched precariously on two chairs hastily bound together with sticky tape.

“Hakuho has so many weapons, like his fleetness of foot and how he puts you off balance. For many Japanese wrestlers, sumo is a test of strength and we charge head first.”

“There are things we could definitely learn from,” he added. “Like the angle of attack, coming in from lower down. You can understand why (Mongolian wrestlers) are so strong.”

Japan has been without a homegrown yokozuna since Takanohana retired in 2003 while three Mongolians currently occupy sumo’s elite rank, with Harumafuji having won seven titles and Kakuryu two.

But Kotoshogiku, who stands 180 cm and weighs a meaty 180 kg, beat all three in January and believes his victory, though unexpected, was no flash in the pan.

“I’ve cried my eyes out in front of my mum and dad,” said the Fukuoka native, who currently holds the second-highest rank of ozeki.

“But I’ve never once thought of quitting sumo,” he added. “I’m calm about the future, I want to win more championships.”

Many inside the cloistered world of sumo, which historians agree dates back some 2,000 years, will hope Kotoshogiku’s emergence ushers in a new era after years of damaging scandals, including allegations of gambling and drug abuse, bout-fixing and underworld links.

One of the most immediate results of Kotoshogiku’s newfound fame is being constantly asked to squeeze toddlers for good luck, like a benevolent deity.

“I get a lot of mothers asking me to cuddle their children to protect them from colds or whatever,” he said, smiling.

“And pregnant woman ask me to rub their bellies for a safe child birth. Their interest in me reminds me that I have done something very special.”

  • Doubting Thomas

    Or maybe the real problem is that a sport that is inherently unhealthy, rife with hazing, abuse, gambling, and bout-fixing, and doesn’t pay nearly as well as sports that don’t leave you dead at 57 isn’t appealing to potential athletes in Japan any more.

    If they let people compete with shoes on a solid surface it could become a contest of pure strength and skill rather than bulk.

    • pocketfullofstones

      Shoes? What are talking about? The best Yokozuna currently is only average size for the division. The next best guy, harumafuji, is one of the smallest sumo in the top div. If you think these guys win simply because of their bulk then you clearly haven’t watched it.

      • Doubting Thomas

        You’re missing my point entirely… The reason sumo wrestlers have to be as big (heavy) as they are is because they compete on a low-friction surface, so the person who has more traction (because they weigh more) is going to win, strength and skill being equal.

        If they competed on a high-friction surface wearing shoes, weight becomes less of an issue and you would see a much wider range of body types because pure strength becomes the key factor. You wouldn’t need to be fat at all. Even Harumafuji still weighs almost 300 lbs! That’s morbidly obese for someone who’s 6’1″ (which is still huge by Japanese standards).

      • pocketfullofstones

        A bigger guy in general is harder to move around simply because he has more mass. This wouldn’t change whether the competitors were wearing shoes or not. It’s a mad idea. In fact, a lot of friction sounds like it would be rather dangerous. Even in freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling the mats are quite smooth, and the shoes don’t have that much grip.

        Another point. Consider the sumo body type. Can’t you see why the typical big belly sumo look is advantages? It gives you a lower centre of gravity. A sumo built like a world’s strongest man competitor would be hopeless. His weight would be all in the upper body.

        You seem to imply that the sumo aren’t that strong, but rather “fat”. I was reading about a study done by the japamese metropolitan university showing that sumo wrestlers actually have on average significantly more fat free mass than body builders. As far as them being unhealthy, they have a lot of subcutaneous fat, but almost no visceral fat. The bad fat. This makes sense because they actually live quite a healthy lifestyle. Although they eat a lot, the food the eat is very nutritious. They also train hard everyday. Comparing Harumafuji to the ordinary person of the same weight is clearly ridiculous.

      • Doubting Thomas

        It wouldn’t have to be an extremely high-friction surface so long as they wore shoes with good traction. Care to explain why judo and greco-roman wrestling isn’t full of fat guys? Because they don’t compete on dirt.

        The idea that sumo wrestlers are healthy is a FANTASY. They live much shorter lives than the general population, even when they lose the weight.

        I didn’t say they weren’t strong, the point was that for the same strength, the fat guy will always win when you’re competing on dirt. It’s pure physics. It’s also why linebackers in the NFL are extremely overweight for professional athletes; they compete on grass. But they at least get to wear cleats.

      • pocketfullofstones

        Maybe because judo and Greco Roman are completely different. In neither sport is it possible to win by pushing your opponent out of a small circle. Not because they compete on dirt. Which in fact they don’t. Sumo compete on a clay platform.

  • Docrailgun

    What is Kotoshogiku talking about? Anyone who has watched the Japanese Ozeki lately knows that they’re just not talented enough. The only reason they keep their rank is through bouts gifted to them.