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JapanFocus
Mongols Invade Japan: Sumo-style
Foreigners succeed at top level of traditional sport
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2007-06-01 11:19 (KST)   

What in Xanadu Kublai Khan of Stately Palace Dome fame decreed and failed to do twice over seven centuries ago, two Mongolian sumo wrestlers have accomplished. They have conquered Japan, not in the way their brethren would have done long ago with sword and spear but through their wrestling skills, they have conquered the world of sumo and dominated the headlines in Japan.


Two Sumo wrestlers square off in Tokyo
©2007 D.Weber

After his second tournament win in a row, Mongolian-born Hakuho (real name Munkhbat Davaajargal) has been promoted to the highest rank a sumo wrestler can achieve -- Yokozuna. For over three years only one wrestler has held onto that title alone -- Asashoryu (Dolgorsuren Dagvadorj) also from Mongolia.


Bulgarian Sumo wrestler Kotooshu
©2007 D.Weber

In 2003 Asashoryu was promoted to Yokozuna. Since that time he so dominated the tournaments that no other wrestler was able to win two tournaments back to back during the same six tournament season in order to be qualified for promotion. There are six tournaments held every two months throughout the year. Since 2003, Asashoryu has won 18 of them, 20 all together in his impressive career. Asashoyru's chances of winning his 21st tournament were dashed on Day 13 of the 15-day tournament when he lost his match.

Sumo is a rigid hierarchical sport that wrestlers have to climb upwards for attention and salary. Along the way, a wrestler can be demoted if he doesn't keep his average up. Once attaining the position of Yokozuna, however, there are no demotions. Unlike other contact sports with only one defending champion, sumo can have several Yokozuna competing in a tournament at the same time. There has been as many as four at one time and subsequently there have been tournaments when there were none.

With Hakuho's promotion, there are now two active Yokozuna which the sumo world hasn't seen in over three years.

Sumo was once primarily a Japanese-only sport and the idea of a foreign Yokozuna was simply out of the question even when foreign wrestlers began competing. Now there are more than 60 foreign wrestlers in the world of sumo. Another strong contender for the title of Yokozuna is Bulgarian wrestler Kotooshu (Mahlyanov Kaloyan Stefanov).


Fans throw cushions whenever a Yokozuna is defeated by a non-Yokozuna
©2007 D.Weber

Currently there are six other Mongolians in sumo's top division -- Kublai Khan's vision is finally coming to a realization, in sumo at least.


A Yokozuna in the making?
©2007 D.Weber

- Yokozuna Losing a Match 

©2007 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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