Category Archives: Mongolia

Wordcatcher Tales: Kawaigaru = Itaburu

In most contexts, Japanese 可愛がる kawaigaru means ‘to dote on, to fondle, to caress’, but for novices in a sumo stable, kawaigaru is a synonym of いたぶる itaburu ‘to torment, to harass, to tease’, as Mongolian ozeki Harumafuji explains in an interview that appeared in the Taipei Times.

Harumafuji, who last month won Japan’s major tournament, recalled the pain and tears that toughened him up in the nine years since he arrived from his native Mongolia with no money and not a word of Japanese….

In sumo, kawaigari means “crying, then being forced to stand, then being beaten again. It’s not simple to express with words because it’s a physical experience,” he said.

But it’s not just the beatings that steel the wrestlers in the quasi-monastic life of the sumo stable, where the fighters forfeit much of their personal liberty and embark on a grueling daily routine.

The younger wrestlers start the day at 3am cleaning the stable, washing their seniors’ loincloths and preparing meals. They are banned from watching television and using cellphones, and receive only modest pocket money.

Harumafuji said he found it toughest to get used to a diet heavy on fish — which has sent some of his mutton-eating compatriots running to the Mongolian embassy to escape Japan — served in huge quantities of 10,000 calories a day.

“Everyone says going on a diet is hard, but I think gaining weight is so many times more difficult,” he said. “Eating was the scariest, and my most painful experience.”

“I’m thin by nature, so I really had a hard time to eat in the beginning. I ate and I vomited. Ate and vomited. Your stomach expands when you do that, so I was forced to eat until I vomited,” Harumafuji said. “When I vomited, there would be someone already waiting with food, and I was forced to eat again.”

The force-feeding helped boost the 1.85m athlete’s weight to 126kg from 86kg — still about 30kg lighter than the average top division wrestler….

As fewer young Japanese sign up for the harsh life of the sumo stable, the sport’s 700-strong elite now include men from China, South Korea, Eastern Europe and as far away as Brazil and the Pacific island state of Tonga.

Geez. That seems to shed new light on the after-sumo career of another diminutive rikishi, Mainoumi, which included a stint as a traveling gourmet as well as general TV personality.

(I hope the Brazilian and the Tongan make it to the upper ranks soon! Surely the Tongan won’t have to get used to eating fish.)

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Harumafuji Wins Emperor’s Cup!

The Summer Grand Sumo Tournament in Tokyo was shaping up to be just another predictable romp by the two Mongolian yokozuna, Hakuho and Asashoryu, until the 14th day, when the Bulgarian ozeki, Kotooshu, toppled Hakuho, knocking him out of the lead and into a tie with the recently promoted Mongolian ozeki, Harumafuji (formerly Ama), at 13-1 going into the last day.

On the final day, the diminutive Harumafuji returned the favor by defeating Kotooshu, while Hakuho defeated his fellow yokozuna Asashoryu, leaving both leaders tied with records of 14-1. Harumafuji then defeated Hakuho in the final playoff bout to win his first Emperor’s Cup.

Mongolians now dominate Japan’s ancient sport, and Harumafuji is the latest to win a tournament. Hakuho has won 10 and Asashoryu has won 23. No Japanese rikishi has won the Emperor’s Cup since veteran ozeki Tochiazuma took it in January 2006. There are now nine Mongolian rikishi in the top Makuuchi division and four more in the Juryo division, plus six more foreign rikishi in the top division: one each from Bulgaria, Estonia, Russia, and South Korea; and two from Georgia.


Filed under Japan, Mongolia, sumo

Hatsu Basho, 2009

They’re off and shoving! Five days into the Starting Tournament of 2009 in Tokyo, four rikishi remain undefeated: the two Mongolian yokozuna, Asashoryu and Hakuho; the newly promoted sekiwake, Baruto from Estonia; and the rising maegashira Tochiozan from Kochi, Japan, home of the famous Tosa wrestling dogs (which are featured on his ceremonial apron).

Two ozeki, the Japanese veteran Chiyotaikai and the Bulgarian heartthrob Kotooshu, are only one loss behind. But the other two ozeki only have one win each so far: Japanese veteran Kotomitsuki and the lithe Mongolian crowd favorite Harumafuji, who changed his ring name (from Ama) after nearly winning the November tournament and earning promotion to the second highest rank. The latter two risk demotion if they don’t finish with more wins than losses.

UPDATE, Day 8: Tochiozan is still keeping pace with the two yokozuna at 8-0, with Baruto and Kotooshu right behind them at 7-1. Harumafuji has improved to 3-5, but still has to win 5 of his 7 remaining bouts to finish with a winning record.

UPDATE, Day 14: Harumafuji, now 8-6, has somehow managed to get the 8 wins he needs to keep his new rank of ozeki, but Kotomitsuki dropped out after falling to 2-10. Everyone except the two yokozuna have fallen off the pace. Unless Asashoryu (14-0) loses on the last day, he will coast to victory, with Hakuho (13-1) just one loss behind. Nice recovery by Asa, who hadn’t been wrestling very well before the tournament.

UPDATE, Day 15: Hakuho handed Asashoryu his first loss when they faced each other on the final day, leaving both tied at 14-1 and forcing a playoff, which Asashoryu then won, for his 23rd tournament title at the highest level.

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Osaka Grand Sumo Finale and Freakonomics

Going into the final day of this year’s Osaka Grand Sumo Tournament, the two Mongolian yokozunas, Asashoryu and Hakuho, are tied for the lead with 2 losses each and will meet each other for the deciding match. Right behind them are two mid-level maegashira, the Georgian Kokkai and Estonian Baruto, with 3 losses each.

Seven rikishi are going into their final day with records of 7 wins and 7 losses, and therefore must win to retain their rank. It will be interesting to see how many of them win. (According to stats compiled in Freakonomics, about 5 out of 7 them will win.) All but one are facing opponents who have already secured a winning record, and the sole exception (Asasekiryu) faces an opponent who has no chance at securing one.

  • Goeido (M8, 7-7) vs. Kakizoe (M14, 8-6)
  • Wakanoho (M4, 7-7) vs. Tochinonada (M8, 8-6)
  • Miyabiyama (M2, 7-7) vs. Baruto (M7, 11-3)
  • Asasekiryu (M1, 7-7) vs. Aminishiki (M2, 6-8)
  • Kotoshogiku (S, 7-7) vs. Kisenosato (K, 8-6)
  • Ama (S, 7-7) vs. Kyokutenho (M4, 9-5)
  • Kotomitsuki (O, 7-7) vs. Chiyotaikai (O, 8-6)

UPDATE: Sure enough, six out of seven won their final bouts. (The winners are in boldface.) Baruto had too much to prove to go easy on Miyabiyama. He and Kokkai ended up at 12-3, tied with Hakuho, who lost his final match with fellow yokozuna Asashoryu. Baruto and Kokkai both shared the Fighting Spirit Award for the tournament.

Did the losers intentionally take a fall? Maybe not. Maybe the winners were just hungrier for that last win. Also, except for the ozeki (O) and Baruto, the winners also outranked their respective opponents, which meant they had better records in the previous tournament than today’s losers did.

UPDATE 2: Like every major sport worldwide, sumo has its ongoing scandals. Washington Post foreign reporter Blaine Harden updates us on one of them, the beating death last year of a trainee.

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Outer Mongolians Inside the Beltway

This may be old news to Beltwaytards, but it’s new news to me, from the Washington Post of 3 July 2006:

The Mongolian Children’s Festival, in its third year, highlights a little-known fact about life in Arlington County — that the Mongolian community has become a force. After English and Spanish, the school system’s most common language is Mongolian.

Mongolians in Arlington are a new phenomenon, most arriving in the past five years, and they seem to have an innate talent for fitting in. Within months, most Mongolian children prattle comfortably in English and embrace U.S. fashions, music and dance moves.

Traditionally a nomadic culture of horsemen, Mongolians lived for years as a Soviet satellite with no access to the west. In 1990, after a democratic revolution, Mongolia opened up, and its 2.5 million citizens were allowed outside the Iron Curtain.

Many went abroad in search of better-paying work and opportunities for their children, although it often meant doing jobs beneath their training (doctors might work as orderlies or sandwich vendors). An estimated 15,000 to 18,000 Mongolians live in the United States, with large enclaves in California, Colorado, Illinois and Arlington, which the Mongolian Embassy says is home to about 2,600.

Why Arlington? Community leaders say it was simply where the first arrivals happened to settle. More followed, coming on student and tourist visas, and they helped each other find jobs and apartments.

But the county’s schools also played a role. Bolormaa Jugdersuren, a Mongolian who is an instructional assistant at Williamsburg Middle School in North Arlington, originally moved to Baltimore and enrolled her children in schools there — until she compared their progress to that of Mongolian children in Arlington.

“I felt like my children were missing something,” she said. After moving here, their English improved quickly. “That’s why most Mongolian people come here,” she said. “Because they choose first the education for their offspring.”

via The Marmot’s Hole

I wonder if Arlington High School or Washington-Lee High School has a sumo team. Instead of dividing the wrestlers into East and West teams for tournament matchups, they could divide them into North and South.

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Mongolians, Estonian Dominate Sumo Tourney

In the absence of Asashoryu, who has been under suspension, the junior and better-behaved Mongolian yokozuna, Hakuho (12-3), won his 5th Grand Sumo Tournament, while the smallest Mongolian, Ama (10-5), won his 2nd Outstanding Performance Award; the giant Estonian, Baruto (11-4), won his 2nd Fighting Spirit Award; and Fukuoka native Kotoshogiku (9-6) won his 2nd Technique Prize. I think they should hold the Natsu Basho (in May) in Ulan Bator instead of Tokyo each year. There are now seven Mongolians in the Makuuchi ranks and five in the Juryo ranks.

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Two Chinese Views on Mongol Writing, 1237

Peng Daya:
As regards their matters of administration, they write with wooden twigs. Their writing looks like frightened snakes and writhing earthworms; it looks like the magical writing in the Books of Heaven; their characters look like the wu, fan, Gong[?] and chi of musical notation. They are closely related to the characters of the Uighurs.

Xu Ting:
I, Ting, have concerned myself with this. The Tartars originally had no writing. Today, however, they use three different kinds.

For written communication in the Tartar lands proper they always use small pieces of wood, three or four inches in length on which they make incisions in the four corners. If for instance ten horses are to be sent, they make ten notches. As a rule they only cut the required number. Their customs are pure and their thoughts honest. Hence also their language is without ambiguity. According to their laws, liars are punished by death. Thus nobody dares to betray. Even if they had no writing, they would still be capable of founding an independent state. These small pieces of wood are the same as the wooden tablets of antiquity.

For their written correspondence with the Uighurs they utilise the Uighur system of writing. Chinqai is the master of this. The Uighur system of writing has only 21 letters. The others are formed by adding something on one or the other side of the letter.

For written correspondence with the conquered Chinese states, with the Kitan and the Jurchen, they make use exclusively of Chinese writing. Chucai [Ch’u-ts’ai] is the master of this. But apart from this, before the date at the end of the letter, Chinqai in his own hand writes in Uighur letters the words: ‘To be sent to NN’. This is presumably a security measure that is directed only at Chucai. Hence every piece of writing has to be marked with such a confirmation in Uighur; without it it has no official validity. This is obviously a measure to make sure that all correspondence passes through Chinqai’s hands, in order to ensure mutual control.

In the city schools in Yanjing it is mainly the Uighur writing that is taught along with translation into the Tartar language. No sooner have the pupils learnt to translate, than they begin to function as interpreters and then in company with Tartars go on violent rampages, where without inhibitions they begin to act as masters of punishment or favour and extort bribes, goods, services, and foodstuffs.

The systems of writing that the Kitan and the Jurchen originally possessed are never used by the Tartars.

Heida Shilüe (Brief Account of the Black Tartars),” in Other Routes: 1500 Years of African and Asian Travel Writing, edited by Tabish Khair, Martin Leer, Justin D. Edwards, and Hanna Ziadesh (Indiana U. Press, 2005), pp. 109-111


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Mongolia Extends Its Reach in the Pacific

Korea-blogger The Marmot, who keeps a weather eye out for Mongolia (where his in-laws reside), has noticed some unusual signs of Pacific outreach by that landlocked nation.

In August, Mongolia hosted a military contingent from Fiji for joint exercises in global peacekeeping. The Fiji military has posted photos from Mongolia on its website. Let’s hope they weren’t teaching the Mongolian military how to stage a coup. I wonder if any Mongolian sumo scouts have their eyes on any likely Fijian recruits. The Pacific is no longer adequately represented in Japanese sumo.

Also in August, Flickr photographer Joe Jones in Hakodate snapped the stern of one of the growing number of ships registered in Mongolia, homeported in thoroughly landlocked Ulaan Baatar. A 2004 article in the New York Times explains the origins of Mongolia’s bluewater fleet.

Mongolian flags are not expected to become a common sight at American docks. But it was an unexpected twist of fate that brought Mongolia, a nation of nomadic herders, to the high seas.

In the 1980’s, a Mongolian university student known only as Ganbaatar won a scholarship to study fish farming in the Soviet Union. But the state functionary filling out his application put down the course code as 1012, instead of 1013. As he later told Robert Stern, producer of a documentary on the Mongolian Navy, that bureaucratic error detoured him from fish farming to deep-sea fishing. Upon graduation, he was sent to work with the seven-man Mongolian Navy, which patrolled the nation’s largest lake, Hovsgol. The lone ship, a tug boat, had been hauled in parts across the steppes, assembled on a beach and launched in 1938. After the collapse of Communism here in 1990, Ganbaatar wrote Mongolia’s new maritime law, which took effect in 1999.

The registry opened for business in February, 2003. Perhaps to play down any negative connotations of being landlocked, the glossy color brochure of the Mongolia Ship Registry shows Mongolia surrounded on three sides by a light blue blob that, on closer inspection, turns out to be China. One clue to the international intrigue behind the registry may be in plans to reopen the North Korean Embassy here this fall.

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Dids Rats or Catapulted Cadavers Bring Plague to Caffa?

[In 1346] one Russian chronicle speaks of the plague arriving on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and attacking several nearby cities and towns, including Sarai, capital of the Mongol Principality of the Golden Horde and home to the busiest slave market on the steppe. A year later, while Sarai buried its dead, the pestilence lurched the final few hundred miles westward across the Don and Volga to the Crimea, came up behind the Tartar army in the hills above Caffa, and bit it in the back of the neck.

The Genoese, who imagined that God was born in Genoa, greeted the plague’s arrival with prayers of thanksgiving. The Almighty had dispatched a heavenly host of warrior angels to slay the infidel Mongols with golden arrows, they told one another. However, in de’ Mussis’s account of events, it is Khan Janibeg who commands the heavenly host at Caffa. “Stunned and stupefied” by the arrival of the plague, the notary says that the Tartars “ordered corpses to be placed in catapults and lobbed into the city in hopes that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside…. Soon rotting corpses tainted the air …, poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one man in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army.”

On the basis of de’ Mussis’s account, Janibeg has been proclaimed the father of biological warfare by several generations of historians, but the notary may have invented some of the more lurid details of his story to resolve an inconvenient theological dilemma. Self-evidently—to Christians, at least—the plague attacked the Tartars because they were pagans, but why did the disease then turn on the Italian defenders? Historian Ole Benedictow thinks de’ Mussis may have fabricated the catapults and flying Mongols to explain this more theologically sensitive part of the story—God did not abandon the gallant Genoese, they were smitten by a skyful of infected Tartar corpses, which, not co-incidentally, was just the kind of devious trick good Christians would expect of a heathen people. Like most historians, Professor Benedictow believes the plague moved into the port the way the disease usually moves into human populations—through infected rats.* “What the besieged would not notice and could not prevent was that plague-infected rodents found their way through the crevices in the walls or between the gates and the gateways,” says the professor….

* Khan Janibeg does have one stout modern defender, Mark Wheelis, a professor of microbiology at the University of California. The professor notes that in a recent series of 284 plague cases, 20 percent of the infections came from direct contact—that is, the victim touched an object contaminated with the plague bacillus, Y. pestis. “Such transmissions,” he says, “would have been especially likely at Caffa, where cadavers would have been badly mangled by being hurled, and many of the defenders probably had cut or abraded hands from coping with the bombardment.” Professor Wheelis also thinks the rat scenario favored by many historians ignores a crucial feature of medieval siege warfare. To stay out of arrow and artillery range, besiegers often camped a kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) away from an enemy stronghold—normally beyond the range of the sedentary rat, who rarely ventures more than thirty or forty meters from its nest. (Mark Wheelis, “Biological Warfare at the 1346 Siege of Caffa,” Emerging Infectious Diseases 8, No. 9 [2002]:971–75.)

SOURCE: The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, by John Kelly (Harper Perennial, 2006), pp. 8-9

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Takasago-beya as Both the Yankees and the Dodgers

While Azumazeki-Beya had been open for only two years, Takasago-Beya was steeped in sumo history. Of the fifty-odd sumo-beya [sumo stables] currently housing rikishi [professional sumo wrestlers] in various parts of the surrounding neighborhood, Takasago ranked fifth in years of operation, dating back to 1878—by no means the beginning of sumo, but an age when the sport began to take on its present structure. In addition to Azumazeki-Beya, Takasago spawned Takadagawa-Beya, Nakamura-Beya, Wakamatsu-Beya, and Kokonoe-Beya. Takasago Oyakata had risen to yokozuna [grand champion] back in 1959, competing as Asashio [one of my childhood favorites—J.]. The fifth Takasago Oyakata, he had taken over in 1971 when the previous Takasago Oyakata, who had also risen to yokozuna competing as Maedayama, died. The line of oyakata stretched back to Takasago Uragoro, who oversaw two yokozuna and three ozeki [champions] of his own. Over the years, nearly one-tenth of the yokozuna promoted since the inception of the rank in the mid-nineteenth century (six of sixty-two, by this time) stomped their first shiko [raise one leg, stomp it, squat] into the Takasago-Beya keikoba [practice room]. If American Major League Baseball were a hundred years older (and if baseball players shared this unforgiving, monastic lifestyle), Takasago-Beya might be comparable to Yankee Stadium.

Takasago-Beya was perhaps more notable in a Brooklyn Dodger way than in a way befitting Yankee pinstripes. In addition to Taylor [Wylie], John [Feleunga], Konishiki [Saleva’a Atisano’e], and Nankairyu, Chad [Rowan] saw two other foreigners in the room, members of Takasago-Beya. While other sumo-beya had recruited rikishi from Brazil and Argentina, and would later look to Mongolia, the only foreigners yet to have really impacted the national sport were limited to this room. Twenty-four years earlier on a demonstration tour to Hawai‘i, the fourth Takasago Oyakata had taken a chance on Jesse Kuhaulua, the beginning of Hawai‘i’s connection with Japan’s national sport. Kuhaulua had trained and competed for more than twenty years at Takasago-Beya as Takamiyama. He now presided over asa-geiko [morning practice] next to the present Takasago Oyakata, on nearly equal terms, as Azumazeki Oyakata.

SOURCE: Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan, by Mark Panek (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2006), pp. 38-39

In looking for links for this post, I came across an interview with Hawai‘i-raised amateur sumotori Kena Heffernan, Yale ’96, Sumo cum laude.

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