This is rising Mongolian sumo talent, Takanoiwa A. Baasandorj posing for a press junket with rising K-pop stars T-ARA earlier this summer. They have something in common – growing popularity in Japan. Takanoiwa came to Japan to train and compete in sumo, as a part of the Takanohana stable. Retired yokozuna, the highest rank in sumo, train young wrestlers to rise through the ranks. They learn more than just the sport, but how to adapt to to very regimented Japanese tradition. Some of them do better than others… at the adapting.
The Asahi Shimbun reports on the changing face of sumo in Japan. As far as foreign wrestlers go, Mongolians are still the cream of the crop in sumo. They take on Japanese names, and Japanese lives. They can spend a lifetime trying to become yokozuna, and still never make it. Asashoryu (aka Dagvadorj Dolgorsuren) made it to the top at 29 and then fell, with some disgrace. His marriage to his Japanese wife crumbled as scandal grew. Mongolian “fighting spirit” is best saved for the basho.
2011 brought a huge match fixing scandal to light, and the sport is still recovering. Dwindling attendance is a problem as well. The younger generation hasn’t taken to the national sport the way the older generations did. How to sauce it up again? I’d go just to catch yakuza gambling action, but maybe that’s just me. The right-wing nationalists aren’t keen on the rising number for foreign sumo wrestlers, but it has brought in a larger international audience. One tactic in place to bring in a younger Japanese audience is the development of sumo character design for products and promotion.
Collectible cards could do it, but maybe some more amazing smart phone apps (for edutainment rather than betting), or some updated video games! I would pay money for some meta video of sumo-sized gamers getting their virtual sumo on. I can already picture the Gangnam Style/sumo parody… Invisible Horse, meet Sumo Belly Slap!