Daily Archives: 15 September 2005

Watching Sumo in Real Time

During my later elementary school years in Kyoto, I used to come home from school and watch sumo matches on our new black-and-white television (Sharp-brand, if I recall correctly). At that time, my favorite wrestlers were Taiho and Asashio, the latter a bit hairy, muscular, and not very fat. (Wakachichibu was the fattest one at the time.) I knew Taiho hailed from Hokkaido, but didn’t know that he was born on Sakhalin of mixed Japanese and Russian parentage.

This week has been the first time since childhood that I’ve had the chance to watch a sumo tournament unfold in real time. The first day of the current Aki Basho ended with a dramatic upset, as newly promoted komusubi Futeno caused a blizzard of zabutons to fly toward the ring by defeating the domineering yokozuna Asashoryu.

The Japan Times described the state of play after Day 5:

Grand champion Asashoryu overwhelmed Kakizoe on Thursday, while Bulgarian Kotooshu claimed the sole lead at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament.

Mongolian Asashoryu was all business in the day’s final bout at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan when he deployed several powerful arm thrusts to send the No. 2 maegashira over the straw ridge.

Asashoryu, who is gunning for his sixth straight Emperor’s Cup, won his fourth straight bout and improved to 4-1 while Kakizoe dropped to 1-4.

Sekiwake debutante Kotooshu continued his impressive form when he swatted down top maegashira Miyabiyama to remain undefeated and in the lead at 5-0.

Miyabiyama, who was no match for the lanky Bulgarian, dropped to an unflattering 1-4.

There are also two Russian rikishi in this basho, but the Bulgarian is the one to watch (not to mention easier on the eyes). And his demeanor at this point is far classier than that of Asashoryu, who tends to glare defiantly and even pump his fist in triumph after each win.

UPDATE, Day 8: “Kotooshu large and in charge

Bulgarian sekiwake Kotooshu continued to leave a trail of destruction in his wake at the Autumn Grand Sumo Tournament as he bumped out Kyokushuzan on Sunday to remain the sole leader with a perfect 8-0 record.

Kotooshu appeared nervous at the face off but faced little resistance from Kyokushuzan (4-4) and with a firm grip on his belt, he quickly worked the Mongolian maegashira to the edge of the ring before ushering him over the straw bales at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan.

Kotooshu stayed one win clear of grand champion Asashoryu with a week of the 15-day tournament left to go but he sensibly played down his chances of becoming the first European to win the Emperor’s Cup.

“I’ve got a winning record now but it’s far from over yet. There is still another week to go,” said Kotooshu.

TV sports reporters are saying that Kotooshu’s perfect string of wins is the best performance by a newly promoted sekiwake since Taiho, Chiyonofuji, and other sumo greats.

Tatsuo Yoshida at Asahi.com explains what’s wrong with Asashoryu these days, and what’s right with Kotooshu. Hint: Asa’s work ethic let’s him down.

UPDATE, Day 13: After much hype of the big face-off between the twice-thrown yokozuna Asashoryu and the upstart Kotooshu on his 12-bout winning streak, hype that included many profiles of Kotooshu, his family in Chiba, the country of Bulgaria, and even Meiji Dairy’s Bulgaria-brand yoghurt, Asashoryu managed to bust Kotooshu’s winning streak, keeping his own hopes alive for winning his 6th Emperor’s Cup in a row.

UPDATE, Day 14: Another young upstart, Kisenosato, managed to “preserve his three losses” (3敗を守る) and hand Kotooshu a second loss, making the latter even with Asashoryu (both 12-2) going into the final day of the Aki (‘Fall’) Basho. I hope Kotooshu regains his confidence, preserves his two losses, and then manages to beat Asashoryu for the expected playoff on the final day. Even better would be for overconfident Asashoryu to add another loss to his total, so that Kotooshu wins the tournament outright with a record of 13-2.

UPDATE, Day 15: What a disappointment! The big face off, the ketteisen ‘deciding match’, between Asashoryu and Kotooshu was much too short and sour (to me). It was a great tournament, though, with a lot of upsets. All the more so watching a good bit of it in real time. Just now, waiting in the wings to come out and receive the Emperor’s Cup, the swaggering, puffed-up, belligerent Asa actually broke down and wept for a brief moment. Fascinating. So now he joins the great Taiho in winning 6 Emperor’s Cups in a row.

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Japan Abandoned, 1939

On July 26, 1939, the United States, having repeatedly protested Japanese actions in China, notified the Hiranuma government that it intended not to renew the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Commerce and Navigation, scheduled to lapse in January 1940. Up to that point the Roosevelt administration had pursued a policy of gentle appeasement of Japan, but its basic Asian policy had always been to maintain the imperialist status quo embodied in the Washington treaty system. Thus it had consistently refused to recognize any changes Japan had brought about by force in China. Roosevelt had also propped up China’s national currency by making regular silver purchases–a policy that would eventually lead him to join the British in providing foreign exchange so that Chiang Kai-shek could stabilize his currency, counter the proliferation of Japanese military currencies in occupied areas, and go on fighting. Now, however, anticipating that war would soon break out in Europe, the United States put Japan on notice that serious economic sanctions could follow further acts of aggression. Thereafter, if Japan’s leaders were to continue the war in China, they would have to take more seriously the reactions of the United States, on which they depended for vital imports needed to wage war.

“It would be a great blow to scrap metal and oil,” Hirohito complained to his chief aide-de-camp, Hata Shunroku, on August 5, shortly after the American move:

Even if we can purchase [oil and scrap] for the next six months, we will immediately have difficulties thereafter. Unless we reduce the size of our army and navy by one-third, we won’t make it…. They [his military and naval leaders] should have prepared for something like this a long time ago. It’s unacceptable for them to be making a commotion about it now.”

But of course Hirohito did not enjoin his chiefs of staff to end the China war, or to reduce the size of anything; he simply got angry at them for not having anticipated the American reaction.

A few weeks later, on August 23, 1939, while the Japan-Soviet truce to end the fighting on the Mongolia-Manchukuo border was being negotiated in Moscow, Germany signed a nonaggression pact with its ideological enemy, the Soviet Union–which contravened the 1936 Japan-German Anti-Comintern Pact. After a fruitless three-year quest for “collective security” with the West against Germany territorial expansion in Europe, Stalin had declared Soviet neutrality and, in a secret protocol attached to the pact, made a deal with Hitler to take over the Baltic states and eventually partition Poland. Stunned by this diplomatic reversal, and unsure how to interpret the enormous strengthening of both German and Soviet power that Hitler’s alliance with Stalin portended, the Hiranuma cabinet resigned on the morning of August 28.

SOURCE: Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, by Herbert P. Bix (HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 353-354

The latter half of this book seems much better than the first, probably for two reasons: (1) The documentation is far richer, so Bix doesn’t have to overinterpret thinly sourced material. (2) Parts of it have been published before, so it is likely to have undergone more revision in response to referee comments. The chapter entitled “Prologue to Pearl Harbor” is excellent, but I think I’ll refrain from excerpting it.

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