self-assured man in Western dress presented himself and sat. He was Yasutaro
Inouye of Nagoya, a sushi restaurateur and organizer of the Nagoya supporting
group for Hanakago stable. He told of the involved finances of sumo, a legacy
of feudal patronage. Each sekitori wrestler gathers his income from a
combination of fixed salary, monthly allowance, special tournament allowances,
repeating rewards for performance (for example, if a wrestler once upsets a
yokozuna he receives a gold star—kinboshi—and 10,000 yen after every tournament
he wrestles for the rest of his career), prize money and gifts from supporters.
Inouye-san's Nagoya group, made up of 100 politicians and restaurant people who
pay monthly dues of 5,000 yen ($18), gives money to Hanakago as well as
donating refrigerators and stoves. He said everyone knew full well that the
Sumo Association gave a fairly substantial allowance to each stable boss for
his establishment's operation, so when fan clubs pay to make ends meet, as
often as not the boss just pockets the cash. "It is part of the price of
being close," he said.
A major expense,
for which wrestlers definitely need help, is the fancy kesho-mawashi. When
Wajima was promoted to yokozuna in May of 1973, he needed not one, but three,
for his attendants in the dohyo-iri. They cost his backers 2½ million yen (just
under $10,000). But from across the country donations poured in. Inouye said
that Wajima now had 14 sets of three matching ceremonial aprons, worth about
servant appeared. The yokozuna was in. The visitors again trailed through a
confusion of passageways and descents, trotting down corridors freezing with
the ocean winds or through clouds of steam past the bathing area. Despairing of
ever seeing their shoes again, they were ushered into a Western sitting room,
with burnt-orange couches, coffee table, thick shag rug and the sun coming
through gauzy curtains. Wajima, dressed in a blue sweat suit, had a stablemate
with him, Seiho Ryuko, a 6'1", 295-pound maegashira. Both wrestlers sat for
a moment on the couch, looking uncomfortable, then dropped to the floor.
Henceforth they used the furniture only to lean on. Wajima smoked a Hope
cigarette and said, in answer to a question about his training, that few
stables permitted wrestlers to run. Ryuko explained. "Oyakata like stamping
because the most important thing in sumo is to keep your feet inside the dohyo,
keep them down hard on the earth. Running is detaching your feet from the
ground. And it makes your hips lighter and makes you lose weight if you do too
much. All very bad."
Wajima was asked
whether it was necessary to perpetuate sumo's feudal pecking order. Could a
recruit live outside the stable and just come for training?
said. "Sumodo [the way of sumo as practiced for centuries] is best. It was
extremely difficult for me to make the adjustment, but it would have been
impossible to become as good as I am without living in the stable. The spirit
is different. It is unthinkable."
Ryuko, at 33
seven years older than his superior, said it was hard for Wajima, or any other
wrestler, to answer such a question objectively. "His success has come
through the present system. Some of the young apprentices might have different
feelings. There is an enormous difference between professional and amateur
sumo. In baseball the best amateur might be able to play in the big leagues.
But when Wajima was an amateur, the best in all Japan, he couldn't have made
the bottom of maku-uchi division in professional sumo. Sumo people are sure
this is because professional sumo is a way of life."
Wajima said he hadn't thought of what to do after retirement, he only wanted to
be a good yokozuna. He added the strange remark that when he retires he must
either join the Sumo Association for life or get out entirely. In this serious
fight, no dabbling is permitted.
wondered if Wajima ever wanted to take a vacation longer than the permissible
week following tournaments. "That's the rule," he said, shrugging.
"I can't help." Ryuko thought they did indeed wrestle too much.
"Ninety days a year, such a severe tension, it's too much for a human
especially after retirement many do. But we get more troubles of the liver and
kidneys than anything. Sumotori are perhaps symbolic of appetite to the
Japanese people. We have to live up to that."