The ancient sport of sumo wrestling still commands a huge following in Japan. For the?
The ancient sport of sumo wrestling still commands a huge following in Japan. For the millions of fans, this ritualised form of wrestling -- which dates back 1500 years -- is more than a sport. It's closer to an art form, keeping alive both religious tradition and the ancient brutality of the samurai warriors.
Just now, there's one name on the lips of most of those fans: Kitanoumi, a young man who has literally rocketed to fame in the sumo ring. He's only 22-years-old, and the youngest grand champion in the history of the sport.
But he has the traditional hugeness of the sumo wrestler -- only five feet 10 inches (177 cms) tall, yet weighing a mighty 330 pounds (149 kgs). His things are about the size of the average man's waist.
In the ring, though, he's the best. By his own admission, this former farm boy from the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido only became a wrestler because he was told he could indulge his two favourite pursuits -- eating and sleeping -- to the full.
Though the social demands of his new life could make matters hectic, with a mass of invitations to all manner of social functions, Kitanoumi usually manages to eat at them even if he can't sleep.
For sleep he goes back to his training "stable", his home since he was 13. There he also trains with other wrestlers, under the eyes of their stable master, a former sumo champion.
There are 28 such stables in Japan. Each one takes a few tall boys every year, proceeds to fatten them up and tries to turn them into wrestlers.
Seven out of every ten new recruits drop out because the schedule is too tough. They get up at five o'clock and go straight into the ring for exercises, followed by training. The more experienced wrestlers usually skip the first couple of hours, then limber up by pitching the younger wrestlers out of the ring.
Sessions at Kitanoumi's stable usually end with the grand champion taking on all-comers.
This is the first of two features on sumo wrestling. It's concerned with the training and social background of the sport, with especial emphasis on Kitanoumi himself. The second part will concentrate on the sumo tournaments.