Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Day in a Japanese Diaper

By Carlo Capua (USA/Toluca, Mexico)

Standing in the midst of 24 sweaty almost-naked men.
Wearing nothing more than a firehose-esque piece of cloth.
Ready to subject myself to full embarrassment.

No, I wasn’t a contestant on a Japanese game show. Last weekend I experienced the glory of Japanese culture to its fullest. Hands-on. Last Sunday I participated in my first sumo tournament (Japanese national sport).

Now this wasn’t the huge, stuffed costume sumo match that you do for laughs at a carnival. This was the real deal - bare butt and all.

Doug, the resident Sado ALT, convinced me to venture up to Sado Island and be a part of the 3-man gaijin team that would take the other Japanese teams by storm. Add Lance, and you’ve got 3 really white, hairy gaijin (word used by Japanese people to refer to foreigners).

Problem: I don’t have a proper Japanese sumo name.

It was fun thinking of a name that would ring fear into the hearts of the other Japanese competitors. My options were:

1) Bakana Amerikajin - “Stupid American”
2) Takahashi - those of you who read my marathon story would understand
3) Tenkomori - literally, “Mountain of Food”
4) Kenshoen – loosely translated, “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome”
5) Sanadamushi – “Tapeworm”

I opted for #3 – Tenkomorikun. Lance chose “Taishokukan” (Massive Appetite Boy) and Canadian-bred Doug was “Momijiyama” (Maple Leaf Mountain.) Together, we would be Team Takokusekikun (Army of Nations.)

The rules of sumo are actually easy. There are two ways to lose a match:
1) Any part of your body touches outside the ring before your opponent, or
2) Any part of your body other than your feet touch the ground.

The hardest part was actually getting (un)dressed. The infamous “diaper”, called a mawashi, is impossible to put on alone. It’s basically a long, thick piece of rough cloth that’s worn like a G-string in the back, and wraps around your waist 4 times. Attractive.

Our first match would be against the defending champion team; actually, it was the first match of the entire tournament. Doug treated his first opponent like a ningyo (doll), and I stepped into the ring to face mystery man #2.

“Do I bow first, or squat? What’s the word for GO? Can I throw salt in the ring, at my opponent, etc?” We had already been explained proper sumo etiquette, but as I stood in the ring I felt all confidence slowly melting away. I looked across the ring and sized up the competition. My opponent wasn’t exactly in world-class shape. He was:

1) Fat. Really fat.
2) Balding.
3) Probably in his forties.
4) Sweaty.

I squatted with both fists firmly planted on the ground. Butterflies were swarming in my stomach. The referee gave me a pitiful look, and gave the Japanese word for “GO!”

I charged directly in to the sweaty mass of flesh in front of me. This guy wasn’t strong – he was just really fat. As I tried to get a firm grip on his mawashi, he backed me to the edge of the ring. “Uh-oh”, I thought. “The fat guy is going to beat me, and it’s going to be broadcast all over the island on Sado TV.”

Fearful of the pending embarrassment, I managed to grab his diaper and spin him out of the ring. To this day I still can’t figure out how I did it. I guess anything can happen when you’re half-naked.

We beat last year’s champion team! With our first victory under our extremely tight belts, Maple Leaf Mountain, Mountain of Food, and Massive Appetite Boy marched their way to a 3rd place finish overall, the best a gaijin team has ever finished in the tournament. And yes, there were more than 3 teams. There were 8 teams, to be exact. Our team and the other gaijin team “dobutsuen” (zoo) all had fun as the day’s “entertainment.”

The most touching part of the day was during the opening ceremony. Since there were Americans in the tournament, they dedicated 1 minute of silence to the nationally tragedy at the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

This culture continues to amaze me.

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