Friday July 12, 2024

Retired Sumo wrestlers entertain tourists with demonstration fights

The weakened yen has made such trips more affordable than ever before, creating a surge in tourist interest

By Web Desk
July 09, 2023
A tourist wearing a sumo wrestler costume tries to spar against former sumo wrestler Towanoyama in the sumo ring at Yokozuna Tonkatsu Dosukoi Tanaka.— CNN
A tourist wearing a sumo wrestler costume tries to spar against former sumo wrestler Towanoyama in the sumo ring at Yokozuna Tonkatsu Dosukoi Tanaka.— CNN

After dedicating two decades to the world of sumo wrestling, Ohtori now embraces a different challenge: entertaining curious tourists. As one of six retired wrestlers, he participates in captivating sumo demonstrations tailored for international travellers who have returned to Japan after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. 

With the weaker yen making trips more affordable, interest in sumo has surged, prompting these retired wrestlers to share their expertise with a global audience.

Ohtori, whose full ring name is Koto-ohtori meaning "harp phoenix," wants both foreigners and Japanese people to gain a deeper understanding of sumo. He reflects on his professional days, acknowledging the rough nature of the sport, but now finds joy in interacting with everyone during these demonstrations.

Located in central Tokyo, Yokozuna Tonkatsu Dosukoi Tanaka opened in November 2022, just as visa-free travel resumed. The venue houses a sumo ring and 14 tables, where patrons can enjoy breaded pork cutlets before immersing themselves in the sumo action. Founded by former wrestler Yasuhiro Tanaka, the restaurant aims to provide ex-wrestlers with second careers as actors and expand their evening performances.

During a recent demonstration, Ohtori engaged in both comedic and realistic sparring with Towanoyama affectionately referred to as "Jumbo" for the English-speaking audience. Tourists like Jose Aguillar from Monterrey, Mexico, were thrilled to experience something iconic from Japan. Aguillar embraced the opportunity to don a sumo costume and face Jumbo in the ring, describing the experience as "amazing."

Themed restaurants, like this sumo-focused establishment, play a vital role in Japan's tourism ecosystem. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims to boost the nation's economy by 5 trillion yen annually through such initiatives. Additionally, sumo has experienced a resurgence following the success of the Netflix drama series "Sanctuary," further piquing interest in the sport.

While the lunch performances are filled with laughter, it is important to acknowledge the physical toll of sumo. Scars on Ohtori and Jumbo serve as a reminder of the challenges they faced during their careers. Many wrestlers start in their teens and face limited employment prospects upon retirement. Yasuhiro Tanaka, now 47, strives to provide wrestlers with opportunities for stable income and fulfilling post-sumo life.

Overall, retired sumo wrestlers are using their expertise and passion to entertain and educate tourists, ensuring that the ancient traditions and cultural significance of sumo continue to thrive on a global stage.