Sumo

Sumo 101: Endorsements

by John Gunning

Contributing Writer

One of the unique aspects of sumo’s attire is a lack of associated wearable merchandise.

While manufacturers are able to sell an endless array of baseball or football jerseys, caps, and jackets, there isn’t much of a market for branded mawashi or “Air-Hakuho” seta (traditional sandals).

That doesn’t prevent wrestlers from endorsing other products however.

Foodstuffs, as you would expect, are fertile ground, but rikishi have appeared in commercials for everything from mobile phones to photocopiers to beds.

Fitness trackers aren’t something most people would associate with sumo, but one of the more memorable Japanese commercials of the past few years featured four rikishi wearing the devices while playing heavy metal.

Humor and sumo commercials go hand in hand.

Sekiwake Takamiyama was ever present in Japanese advertising while active, and the hugely popular Hawaiian was normally in some kind of costume.

Whether dancing in pajamas or dressed in a zoot suit, Jesse, as he was affectionately known, was rarely off TV screens or out of the magazine pages in the 1970s and ’80s.

It’s no coincidence that after he became a stablemaster one of Takamiyama’s recruits took up the mantle of most-popular rikishi for advertisers.

Takamisakari endorsed various products but was most closely linked with Nagatanien, a food manufacturer. The Tokyo-based company placed a large amount of kensho (prize money) on his bouts and the parade of associated banners around the ring always sent ripples of laughter through the arena as the stadium announcer read out the names of all the various seasoning flavors.

The rikishi with the greatest level of endorsement success, however, never even made it past the third-tier makushita division. Byambajav Ulambayaryn from Mongolia quit sumo suddenly in 2005 and moved to the United States, where he has since become a star.

As well as appearing in the movie “Ocean’s Thirteen” and being a guest on numerous TV shows, Byamba, as he is known, has been featured in advertisements for dozens of the world’s largest companies.

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