Sunday, November 27, 2016

Pseudo Sumo

Paper sumo wrestling popular with people of all ages

The Japan Times  by Chie Shiraishi  Kyodo  Nov 26, 2016 

A member of the Nihon Kamizumo Kyokai taps the frame of a miniature ring to make wrestlers made of cardboard 'fight' during a tournament held in Tokyo's Nerima Ward in September. | KYODO 

The stereotypical image of middle-aged Japanese men may be stiff and proper, but you are bound to think differently when you see those who are passionate about paper sumo matches. The Nihon Kamizumo Kyokai (Japan Paper Sumo Association), boasts a history of more than 60 years, and its members enjoy having sumo matches with wrestlers made of cardboard fighting it out in a ring the size of your palm.

“Wow, he finally halted a losing streak!” exclaims a member during the group’s most recent tournament, which was held in September at the Tokyo home of 56-year-old Tadahiro Yoshida, head of Nihon Kamizumo Kyokai.

The participants are huddled around a 12-centimeter ring placed in what they call the Kokugikan, a miniature replica of Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s sumo hall.

On the ring, two paper wrestlers are moving, controlled by players tapping the edge of the ring with their fingers. The wrestlers, made by the members themselves, are about 6 centimeters tall and weigh 1½ grams each.

Members of the Kamizumo Kyokai weigh sumo wrestlers made of cardboard in September to insure fair matches.  KYODO
Spectators of the tournament cheer one wrestler that “skillfully” pushes his opponent out of the ring to claim victory.

Hiroaki Niitani, another group member, claims that each wrestler has a distinctive face and physical structure, even though they are made of paper.

“Some are strong but others are not. And each is good at a different technique,” the 57-year-old says.

But there are skills you need to learn when you tap the ring to get the wrestlers to “fight.” Players need to make their wrestlers practice basic sumo exercises such as the suriashi shuffling walk, which Niitani says will make them stable.

Sumo medley from "Sonatine" a 1993 Japanese film starring Takashi Kitano.  (If you haven't seen this film you're missing out. 
Sumo wrestling has been a national sport for centuries in Japan and the paper game version developed from the people’s love for it. It began as a children’s game, but adults also took it up as a hobby.

According to Yoshida, Nihon Kamizumo Kyokai was established in 1954. In the 1970s, the game saw a surge in enthusiasts after a weekly magazine wrote about it. Matches were even shown on live television.

The boom passed sometime after, but the group has remained. Yoshida says the it currently has around 30 members, many of whom are in their 50s, and they have created about 200 wrestlers.

The members get together once or twice a month for a tournament as well as shindeshi kensa (apprentice examination), when they check the size and shape of newly created paper wrestlers to ensure fair matches.

The members also call themselves stable masters and take on sumo-match roles such as the gyōji (referee) or yobidashi (caller) for wrestlers. They also make banzuke (ranking lists) of wrestlers and score sheets that look very much like those used in real sumo.

The paper wrestlers, too, are treated in the same manner as real sumo wrestlers.

“Just like in real sumo, even a strong wrestler one day runs out of steam,” Yoshida says. “Then he is defeated by a younger one.”

When it comes time for paper wrestlers to “retire,” their mage topknots are cut off and they are dressed in kimono before resting in the attic of the miniature Kokugikan.

The Nihon Kamizumo Kyokai members’ passion for paper sumo, on the other hand, shows no signs of retiring.

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