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Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2006

Trips north, south, east and west -- oh, and unwanted amateurs!

Special to The Japan Times Online

While the dust was flying during the should they/shouldn't they (make Hakuho yokozuna and Miyabiyama ozeki) promotion debate that blew up following the Nagoya Basho, the sumo powers that be did what they so often do best and ignored the fuss.

News photo
New WBA light flyweight world champion Koki Kameda is lifted by yokozuna Asashoryu after defeating Venezuelan Juan Landaeta in a split decision at Yokohama Arena on August 2. KYODO PHOTO

A few days later as the rainy season petered out, Dewanoumi Ichimon said its final farewell to recently deceased ozeki Hokutenyu in a service attended by several hundred officials and fans and those returning from brief vacations following the basho found that the heat and humidity of summer had finally arrived in the capital.

Many of sumo's finest then proceeded to do what the majority of residents can only dream of doing in summer -- move north. Fukushima, Hokkaido and finally Aomori and the cooler climes to be found therein were the destinations for this year's summer saunter northwards as August 6-11 saw the usual round of demonstrations, open to the public morning practices and numerous autograph signing sessions for the fans.

Prior to the trip, Hakuho and Asashoryu made separate trips to Mongolia. Both were back in Tokyo by the start of August though and while Hakuho was supposedly talking of training and being in shape for September, Asashoryu was seen holding aloft the diminutive Japanese boxer Koki Kameda after the latter's controversial August 2 light flyweight championship victory in boxing; Kameda's flowing tears of joy making the yokozuna appear as if he was kidnapping a child.

The days after August 11 saw some stables split off and visit other regions of northern Japan of their own accord but come the middle of the month, as the Japanese media en masse diverted its attention to the annual furor over official/private or otherwise visits to Yasukuni Shrine by Prime Minister Koizumi, it was largely back to Tokyo to pack mawashi for this weekend's trip to Taiwan.

The Taiwan Jungyo is set to take place over two days, the 19th and 20th at the Taipei Dome in Taipei and will be the first opportunity since Las Vegas in 2005 for those outside Japan to see the national sport up close and personal.

Post Taiwan, eyes will slowly start to turn to the September 10-24 Aki Basho and conversation will once again center on Hakuho and his chances at securing top dog slot alongside Mongolian compatriot Asashoryu as well as the amount of preparation each has put in. A couple of stables not taking a break in the Ryogoku area it seems are Magaki Beya with its teenage Russian Wakanoho and Shikoroyama Beya, home of Japanese maegashira Homasho. Both have been seen putting in some Sunday morning overtime recently and are to be admired for behaving far from the sumo summertime norm by remaining 'at post' and practicing in a sweltering capital.

Off the Japanese dohyo and in the ever active world of amateur sumo; the breeding ground of so many of today's Ozumo stars, many will be focusing on the upcoming August 26, Junior Sumo World Championships scheduled for Rakvere, Estonia. The 7th such event, it is being coordinated by the Estonian Sumo Association and it is no coincidence that it is being held in the former home region of Estonian maegashira Baruto. Indeed, were a limit on more non-Japanese entering Ozumo not currently in force, we could again be witnessing the dohyo debut of future sekitori from the EU or perhaps even the U.S.

Standard talk of sumo bringing nations together in speeches to the competitors notwithstanding then, where exactly this limit on foreign amateurs entering the professional game leaves the kids of today with their dreams of Japan based sumo glory in future years is anyone's guess.

Fortunately, one silver lining for the youngsters attending has at least two sources on Rakvere's organizing team confirming Baruto's presence and participation in an as of yet undetermined capacity -- no doubt accompanied by more autograph signing and photo shoots.

Staying with Baruto to close -- in Tokyo this time -- his new home, Onoe Beya opened for business on August 1 in a small building in Ota-ku, not far from the grave of one time sekiwake turned professional wrestler Rikidozan. Onoe Oyakata split from Mihogaseki Beya following the July tournament taking a handful of rikishi with him including Makunouchi ranked Baruto, Juryo rikishi Satoyama and current Makushita man Shiraishi -- a man more than capable of returning to Juryo and perhaps even going further in the coming months.

As is always the case in sumo though -- time will tell.

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