Sumo: Something for everyone

By Lawrence I. Charters
Kenko Shimbun, October 1986, p. 11.

Never watch sumo with hospital people. With this and just one other rule (never have pizza with hospital people studying anatomy) you will, in the words of Mr. Spock, “live long and prosper.”

Now, before you rush in and say, “What’s the matter with hospital people?” (which could involve a long answer), think back on why you came to Japan. You probably thought you could get out and see the country, enjoy the culture, and make a killing teaching English, in spite of your Mississippi accent. Then you got here and, to your great shock and amazement, discovered the Navy expected you to work!

Well, you see, the trouble with hospital people (and – let’s be honest – dental people, too) is they don’t know how to stop working. Med repair people adjust the laser scanners while buying food at the commissary, ICU nurses check pulses of perfect strangers while waiting for trains, dentists tend to stare at your mouth while you talk, urologists — never mind.

Sumo and sense of balance
“See how their diet destroys their sense of balance? These guys can’t even stand up straight.” (Scanned image from newspaper.)

So, you spend ¥6,000 on a ticket to see a sumo match in Tokyo, trying to forget how large a check it took to get ¥6,000, and foolishly decide to ask some friends and fellow workers along. There you are, engrossed in a match between the new giant-killer of the upper division, Ofurobashi, and the great hope of eastern Japan, Higashiazuma, and someone to the right asks: “Can you imagine trying to find a vein on him for an IV?”

You pretend to ignore this, but the floodgates are opened.

“We ought to invite him for the next EMT course. He must weigh about 400 pounds, and if the students can get him on a litter they can transport anyone.”

“You know, I bet none of them could meet height-weight standards.”

“I don’t know. That yakuza (yokozuna, or grand champion) fellow, Chiisaifuji, could probably make it on percent body fat.”

“You mean the one with the magnificent trapezius? I wonder what exercise you have to try to get such strong latissimus dorsi?”

“I’m more impressed with his levator nasalis.”

Foolishly, you ask, “What is a levator nasalis?”

“It’s the muscle that allows you to wrinkle up your nose like this (demonstrating).”

“Yech! Why would you want to do that?”

“Beats me. But he’s got a great one.”

” You can’t see a muscle that small from here!”

“Maybe not on most people, but he has an incredible levator nasalis . . . ”

About this time one of the wrestlers, Chottomatteyama, takes a bad bounce out of the ring and is carried away.

“Oooh, looks bad. Hope they have a good orthopod.”

Sumo opening crouch
“Amazing. If I tried a flat-footed crouch like that, I’d probably never get back up. Makes for an interesting Orthopedic study.” (Image scanned from newspaper.)

“I wish they had instant replay. At home I could stop the tape and see exactly what happened. Too bad you can’t do a slow-scan or fast forward of reality.”

“Think they’ll do a CAT-scan on him? He could have hurt his spinal column.”

“I’d hate to pass gas on a patient that large. How do you judge the dose?”

Within minutes, the “patient” has been thoroughly diagnosed, surgery performed, and put through rehabilitation – all from the balcony seats of the sumo arena. Things quiet down until Sososhio, the notoriously lazy ozeki (champion), makes his usual half-hearted effort before getting blown out by Daiokii, a wrestler almost two meters tall.

“Think he’s Pickwickian?”


“You know, the character from Dickens.”

“It’s hard to imagine a 440-pound wrestler dressed in nothing but a loincloth as part of a Victorian novel.”

“I meant his psychological profile.”

“Oh. Well, I can’t comment on that, but his physical profile is a cross between a beached whale and a sea slug.”


“You know, I’ll bet his self-image would change entirely with a little maxillofacial surgery . . . ”

By the time the final match is over it’s obvious the 2,000-year history of sumo, with its rich cultural heritage and elaborate ceremony, is lost on health care people. After seeing, in person, the world’s best athletes at one of the world’s oldest sports, not a few are heard to mutter: “I’m glad I set my videotape recorder. You’ll see – I’m sure he tore his collateral ligament.”


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