June 17, 1999
Well, summer is finally here. How can I tell? Well, in the last 24 hours, three events tipped me off. First, it started to rain. Summer, in Japan, is just another word for "rainy season." Second, it got very, very humid. Of course, this is related to the rain, but not all rainy weather makes you sweat while sitting perfectly still in front of a fan with almost no clothes (OK, fine, I admit it -- no clothes). I was at Shorinji Kempo (that martial art that I do) practice last night and we couldn't practice the escapes and throws too well because we kept on sliding off of each other due to the sweat factor. And the third clue was this year's first HBS. HBS, for the acronymicly challenged, stands for Huge Bug Sighting. I named this one Andre.
How big was it? Well, nothing seems really big when you hear the measurement in inches, so I'll just describe the event. I saw Andre sort of half sticking out of my closet, and since the closet has a sliding door I thought that that would be a fine way to kill him. When I slammed the door shut I missed the bulk of Andre, but I managed to catch his arm in the door. That right, Andre was so big that his arm was able to be caught in a door. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach him with anything while holding the door closed on his arm, so eventually I let go to search for a weapon. He quickly yanked his arm free (he was able to slightly move the door).
That's when Andre flew at me.
Oh, I didn't mention that the Huge Bugs (tm) could fly, did I? Welcome to the wonders of Japan's fauna. So far, the flora haven't attacked me. As for Andre, he quickly disappeared. But I'm sure we'll meet again, once he's gotten a chance to grow a bit and find some friends. (Actually, I am pretty sure that Andre was some kind of cockroach, but for some reason saying "bug" is a lot less threatening. Go figure.)
And now to the Sumo part. I was going to surprise everyone after the fact, but I figured that such a monumental even deserves two emails. It seems that for the past four years there has been an all-foreigner (no Japanese) sumo tournament held once a year, at the end of June. Next weekend, June 26, is the Fifth Annual Gaikokujin Sumo Tournament. And guess who is entered to compete. Jeff and I couldn't possibly pass up an opportunity to wear diapers in front of hundreds of people, most of whom will be armed with cameras. In fact, Japanese TV is even producing a story about the tournament.
(Most of the following was in an email sent to me by one of the organizers)
There will be 30-35 people entered in the tournament, with entries from America, Canada, Brazil. Also, there will be one German, one Korean and one Chinese. The biggest wrestler tips the scale at 118kg. In more familiar terms, that means BIG (about 265 pounds).
The organizers do not separate wrestlers according to their sumo ability, but they divide everybody into teams of three or five (depending on the number entered) and have a team competition. They usually make the teams so that you'll face people who are similar in size. During the team competition, you'll have four or five bouts, and the teams with the most victories will face off in a playoff.
After the team competition, there is single knockout individual event. Then, as a consolation, there is the "sannin nuki" tournament which anybody who wins three consecutive matches against anybody who dares to jump into the ring gets a plaque. The people who do well in the individual contest are not permitted to enter the "sannin nuki," to give others a chance to get a piece of hardware.
As for the abilities of the wrestlers, the vast majority have never put on a mawashi (diaper) before, so it's not the biggest or strongest who wins, but the person can keep his legs inside the ring. Basically, sumo is quite simple: two guys are in a circular ring, and the first one who touches anywhere outside the ring, or the first person to touch the ground with anything but their feet, loses. Most matches last less than 30 seconds. There are apparently a few guys who are quite good (including Konishiki's cousin, who has won the individual event for the last three years, and is undefeated) but they are the exceptions. Konishiki, in case you don't know, is a former Bad Ass Sumo Wrestler, who was in fact the biggest ever at around 600 pounds.
So, that's the nuts and bolts of it, in theory. In my experience, however, practice is both more unpredictable and more fun than theory. I am really looking forward to it. Except the diaper part. Oh, and in case you were worried about inequality of the sexes, there will be a practice session for women (who will wear shorts and a T-shirt rather than a diaper), and after the Sumo tournament there will be an arm wrestling tournament for "ladies." Kristin is coming along with us, ostensibly to compete in the arm-wrestling segment, but really to take as many embarrassing pictures as possible.
And to those of you who haven't been receiving emails from me lately (that's all of you): I'm sorry, and I hope to rectify the situation forthwith. I just petitioned the city office to add an eighth day each week so that I have time to keep up with correspondence. He said he'd get back to me.