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Sumo Menko Man

Book Review - The Joy of Sumo by David Benjamin

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Sumo Fans,

A few weeks ago or so we looked at all the books that were written on sumo in English we came up with the following list:

1. The Essential Guide to Sumo by Dorthea Buckingham (1994)

2. Gaijin Yokozuna by Mark Panek (2006)

3. Sumo from Rite to Sport by P.L. Cuyler (1979, revised 1985)

4. The Book of Sumo by Doug Kenrick (1969)

5. Sumo Wrestling by Bill Gutman (1995)

6. Grand Sumo by Lora Sharnoff (1989)

7. The Big Book of Sumo by Mina Hall (1997)

8. The Giants of Sumo by Angela Patmore (1990)

9. Rikishi: The Men of Sumo by Wes Benson (1986)

10. Takamiyama: The World of Sumo by Jesse Kuhaulua (ghostwritten by John Wheeler) (1973)

11. Dynamic Sumo by Clyde Newton (1994)

12. Sumo by Andy Adams and Clyde Newton (1989)

13. Sumo: The Sport and Tradition by J.A. Sargeant (Tuttle, 1959)

14. Sumo Watching by S.W.A. (1993)

15. Sumo: A Pocket Guide by Walter Long (1989)

16. Sumo: A pocket Guide by David Shapiro (Tuttle, 1995)

17. The Joy of Sumo by David Benjamin (1991)

18. Sumo by Lyall Watson "A Channel Four Book" (1988)

19. Sumo: A Fan's Guide by Mark Schilling (1994)

20. Grand Sumo Fully Illustrated by PHP Institute Inc

21. Sumo Showdown: The Hawaiian Challenge by Philip Sandoz

22. Jesse: Sumo Superstar by Adams and Schilling

23. Makunouchi Rikishi of the Showa Era by Clyde Newton

24. Sumo - Japanese Wrestling (Tourist Library 34)

25. I am a Rikishi by Reiko Yokono

26. Makunouchi Rikishi of the Showa Era by Clyde Newton

What I've proposed is that we take a book every month or so and post our good, bad or ugly thoughts on the book. The month gives some time for people to order the book and/or read/reread the book for comments.

As you can see from this month's thread topic we'll start off with David Benjamin's "The Joy of Sumo."

Title: The Joy of Sumo - A Fan's Notes

Author: David Benjamin

Publisher: Tuttle

Pages: 295

ISBN: 0-8048-1679-4

First Edition 1991

Third Printing 1992

Softcover

................................................................................

...............................................................

I am in the middle of rereading so will post comments when I am done. There were some great comments in the previous threads on this book, but I didn't pull that info over.

Cheers!

Ryan

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I look forward you comments

Cheers

Kaji

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Reading The Joy of Sumo is definitely tougher the second time than it is the first time. I don't recall it being so hard to understand and follow when I first read it about 2-3 years ago. I usually hate criticizing books and authors since I know it takes a lot of time and energy to put something together, but as the whole title suggests The Joy of Sumo - A Fan's Notes this book really is just a bunch of notes. While his writing style doesn't work for me, it might work for others. I've only made it to Chapter 5 out of 13 chapters, but here are my impressions so far.

Positives:

1. It's a light read for those people who are really only looking for a cursory look into the world of sumo. Since Japanese terms and can be cumbersome and difficult to remember, he does provide an easy, although very unconventional, method at trying to remember all the words associated with sumo. I won't spoil everything for the reader, but one of the foremost Hawaiin rikishi, Konishiki, is labeled as the Hawaiian Hippo and the Nihon Sumo Kyokai Richijo, then Futogayama, is given an "awesome" nickname of Old Fart Number One by the author. The author labels rikishi "Big Strong Bastards" so that would probably be easy to remember for some.

2. Where I think the author excels is giving his own viewpoint on some of the classic bouts between Konishiki and Chiyonofuji. He was right there during that part of sumo history, it'd been nice to see more of it documented for historical purposes.

Negatives:

1. There are a lot of negatives to the book, but overall I don't think the book has contributed anything to the world of sumo in the form of new information or anything that has lasting value. In fact, if this was the first book I had read when I was getting into sumo, I might have dismissed sumo as a second rate sport not worth my time. Again, this is my own opinion and the book might have attracted more people then it scared off. According to Amazon.com sales rank (#613,977), however, it has outsold a lot of other popular books so it has attracted an audience and hopefully it hasn't turned too many people off.

2. The sentence structure is terrible and is one of the main reasons the book is so hard to follow. 95% of all sentences in the book at a minimum will contain one of the following symbols(,;:-"--'_{[...]}/ and most have even more than one. It gets brutal in some sentences. That is why I said it really is a bunch of notes that were stretched out into a book format. It is really hard to read if you aren't used to a flipant style that tries to have a witty humor to it.

3. As I dove more and more into the book, I was getting more and more annoyed of all the non-sumo sports comparisons that the author was throwing around. I think every major sports figure from baseball, basketball, soccer, American football, boxing were used to try and relate back to sumo in some sort form of comparison. He even throws in a "hog-calling in Arkansas" and Tijuana Cockfit comparison to round everything out. One or two is fine....the author went overboard in my mind.

4. The word choice is at both end of the spectrum and really clashes throughout the book so far. For example, the author goes from using peignoir, florid, luscious, ecclesiastical in one paragraph to f'rinstance(for instance), ain't, putz and f'Chrissake in the next. Again, in my opinion, he tried to go for a funny and witty book while attempting to keep the credibility of his sumo knowledge.

5. I had to take a break today from reading the book when he refered to all the pre-bout warming up and rituals as "Screwing Around." He did this about 6 times. For example, "Screwing around before the match is a privalage a rikishi must earn." and "...varied varied screwing around that precedes the match." Part of Chapter 5 is the Eight Ways to Screw Around.

6. I'd like to know if any sumo fans catogorizes rikishi into Genus and Species with Cabdrivers, Jocks, Butterballs, Hippos as titles. I'm not even sure what purpose it serves, but I spent a whole chapter reading about it and trying to figure it out.

I'm sad I paid money for this book, but hopefully the second half of the book will get better. I'll finish with more impressions in a few weeks after I battle the next hundred pages or so.

Cheers.

Ryan

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There are some interesting moments, such as his description of Asahifuji's promotion-clinching win over Chiyonofuji, but mostly his writing style is just annoying and tiresome. To his day I have no idea why he insisted on referring to Mitoizumi as the "Asshole". (I much prefer Lyall Watson's description - the "Jolly Green Giant".)

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I think he referred to Mitoizumi as "Asshole" because of the way he flicked the salt. I guess he jsut sort of dropped it out of his hand in an "I could care less" attitude....from what I could gather from the book.

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I guess he jsut sort of dropped it out of his hand in an "I could care less" attitude....from what I could gather from the book.

This is very good. He dropped it out of his hand so nonchalantly it nearly hit the ceiling every time..

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According to the book, he did the non-chalant throws on all but the final low-earth-orbit throw. The author gave him the Asshole nickname because "In all but his final pitch, Mitoizumi's delivery is less than desultory."

That'd been pretty interesting to see....the final salt throw that is.

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According to the book, he did the non-chalant throws on all but the final low-earth-orbit throw. The author gave him the Asshole nickname because "In all but his final pitch, Mitoizumi's delivery is less than desultory."

That'd been pretty interesting to see....the final salt throw that is.

Calling someone an asshole in a book about sumo because he throws the salt nonchalantly is enough for me to say this is one book I won't read. I know this attitude, I've met quite a few sumo aficionados who take this viewpoint of "Sumo is just like any other sport, so stop selling me all this ritual garbage. Now I'll use really foul language to describe it just to prove that to you..". I don't like them too much, but to each his own..

Edited by Kintamayama

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The author gave him the Asshole nickname because "In all but his final pitch, Mitoizumi's delivery is less than desultory."

That could well be the most retarded thing I've ever read about sumo. Of course, going by your review above that might not even by the "highlight" of the book...

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The only thing that is making me feel better about this book is at least I didn't pay full price for it and bought it second-hand. I am going to trudge through the second half of the book just so I can say I've read it.

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Thanks for your comments, guys. (Sigh...)

This book is definitely out of my list of "future reads".

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Thanks for your comments, guys. (Sigh...)

This book is definitely out of my list of "future reads".

Kaji,

You aren't missing anything. Definitely save your money for the numerous books that are actually well written on the subject of sumo. Welcome to the boards BTW!

Ryan

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Thanks for your comments, guys. (Sigh...)

This book is definitely out of my list of "future reads".

Kaji,

You aren't missing anything. Definitely save your money for the numerous books that are actually well written on the subject of sumo. Welcome to the boards BTW!

Ryan

for me this book was very entertaining......most books on sumo in english have the same content.....history, top-dogs etc......this book is different.....and although it might not be a book about sumo the way we like it, i guess it was the most entertaining (controversial) book i read on sumo........

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Orion was quite clearly spot-on (as one might expect!). I won't be buying this book.

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There are some interesting moments, such as his description of Asahifuji's promotion-clinching win over Chiyonofuji, but mostly his writing style is just annoying and tiresome. To his day I have no idea why he insisted on referring to Mitoizumi as the "Asshole". (I much prefer Lyall Watson's description - the "Jolly Green Giant".)

In his own words...

BigSalt.png

Better know a writer.

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Be that as it may, he could have used a softer word than Asshole which is not "affectionate" in any book . He is clearly pandering to the Western reader who has the average "fat guys prancing around" attitude towards sumo. I'm not surprised it's the best selling book on sumo, as it fits the Westerners' concept of sumo like a glove. And no, I don't have to read the book- that passage you quoted is pretty clear. And if anyone thinks that that salt throwing distracted any opponent ever in the least (who's trashcan, BTW?), he's the (affectionately..) asshole.

Anyone can write whatever they want on whatever they want, but in this case, I'm not playing..

Edited by Kintamayama

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I've always been bemused about the vehement reactions I read about this book. To me, the book's subtitle, "A Fan's Notes", and the introduction of the book make it clear he's writing about what sumo is to him, i.e. his own personal approach. It's fair to point out where he's made factual errors, or to simply disagree with his opinions, but to disparage someone to such a degree over what is openly and simply one man's personal take and fascination with sumo seems misplaced. I've seen nothing in his work to suggest he believes himself expert, or has a more valid take than those closer to the sumo world. He's actually stated that those who view sumo as a cultural treasure of Japan have an equally valid and fertile viewpoint. It's just not his...

If you don't enjoy Dave Barry, you probably won't enjoy The Joy of Sumo, either.

jos-intro.png

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I've always been bemused about the vehement reactions I read about this book. To me, the book's subtitle, "A Fan's Notes", and the introduction of the book make it clear he's writing about what sumo is to him, i.e. his own personal approach. It's fair to point out where he's made factual errors, or to simply disagree with his opinions, but to disparage someone to such a degree over what is openly and simply one man's personal take and fascination with sumo seems misplaced. I've seen nothing in his work to suggest he believes himself expert, or has a more valid take than those closer to the sumo world. He's actually stated that those who view sumo as a cultural treasure of Japan have an equally valid and fertile viewpoint. It's just not his...

I never said anything about factual errors . I don't care. I'm talking about the overall "smell" coming out of these few passages you quoted. I understand it's a personal take. But giving the subject of his matter dumb names is really childish. It's difficult to take any author who goes that route seriously. I also don't see anyone "disparaging someone to such a degree.." etc. All people are saying is they won't be reading it. I called him an asshole, but affectionately, since his observation, even for a total newbie (which, contrary to what he's trying to make us think, he obviously isn't..) was really, really way, way off, and I think he put it there on purpose, knowing full well it's nonsense. But the Western reader would love it. Etc. Etc.

Edited by Kintamayama

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If you don't enjoy Dave Barry, you probably won't enjoy The Joy of Sumo, either.

Dave Barry can write. Everything you've presented from Benjamin merely indicates that he can competently string words together and knows how to substitute empty "controversy" for actual substance. If that appeals to people who don't mind remaining clueless about sumo and just want to read some entertaining drivel that they'll have forgotten fifteen minutes later except for some catchwords such as "asshole", I have no problem with that. But please don't pretend that it's anything more than tabloid content pressed into book form.

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Kinta-san,

I did not quote you as I was not writing to you directly, but addressing what I've read in the topic as a whole - in this thread and the earlier thread where the same book was briefly discussed. I support your right to feel and write as you choose, just as I support the same right for the author of the book under discussion.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The comments by Josh Reyer (whose posts various forums I've found insightful over the years) on the SML several years ago were the most reasoned I've come across.

Benjamin lived in Japan as a while, apparently with a Japanese wife. His book was written quite sometime ago, geared for the non-fan audience, as an introduction to sumo. Factually it was rife with errors. I mean rife. Lousy with factual errors. Misu darake, as the Japanese would say. However, from the point of view of a fan, it's actually quite good. By which I mean, he's not an expert, and that shows. But he is a fan, and that shows as well. He does a great job of explaining to a western audience whose only idea of sumo is men in diapers just why sumo is interesting, what makes it exciting as a sport.

Really for the first 3/4ths of the book, that's great. But then he tries to wrap it up philisophically, and that's where the "burlesque" part comes in. The last fourth of the book is really a stretch as he tries to attach great meaning and pathos to the sport, without referencing Japanese culture at all. Because, after all, the typical reader of his book isn't going to know anything of Japanese culture. But it doesn't fit. It's a lot like the American reaction to a Japanese writer talking about baseball as a cruicible of the soul. It doesn't fit the idiom, and sticks out. It's the weakest part of the book.

But if you gutted that part out, had Doreen, or Abe-san, or me, or a number of posters on this board do some fact checking and editing, it'd really be the ideal book to give to someone who has no idea why you like sumo.

Josh Reyer

http://www.banzuke.com/05-2/msg00012.html

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If you don't enjoy Dave Barry, you probably won't enjoy The Joy of Sumo, either.

Dave Barry can write. Everything you've presented from Benjamin merely indicates that he can competently string words together and knows how to substitute empty "controversy" for actual substance. If that appeals to people who don't mind remaining clueless about sumo and just want to read some entertaining drivel that they'll have forgotten fifteen minutes later except for some catchwords such as "asshole", I have no problem with that. But please don't pretend that it's anything more than tabloid content pressed into book form.

Where are all these second-hand books coming from? People who read the book once and then got rid of it. It is the opinions of an admitted armchair critic who got almost all his experience of sumo from watching it on TV (with his Japanese wife, who in all his writings that I ever saw, is never referred to anywhere except as 'Hotlips'). As I said before, he put out this book just before departing Japan, having made his pile of yen from a very few years of badmouthing people who had already made it. I wasn't one of them, so I don't have any personal vendetta.

Other people, from long ago, used sumo to prop up their own self-esteem. Chief among them I would put the now-departed Davey Jones.

OTOH, there are some people whose passion shines through, and keeps on shining through. One of them is Moti, who reappeared in the world of sumo after some years. You may like to make your own list of people who devote themselves to sumo and people who are only out for themselves.

Orion at please forgive any typos. It's been an awfully long day

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I imagine all these second-hand books are coming from books sold, read, and then resold or given away. I might just be unusual, but I often pass books I particularly enjoyed onto friends.

I don't see the writer badmouthing anyone in this book, though he does have his own favorites and villains, like sports fans do all over the world.

I do have my list, but my groupings are somewhat different from yours. I have statisticians, photogs, historians, translators, play-by-play and colour commentators, sports writers, academics, storytellers, and casual fans whose work and postings I tend to follow with interest. They all have something different and worthwhile to offer. :-)

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The second half of this book actually read a lot better than the first half in my opinion, although the last chapter really lost me when he tried to be philosophical...my eyes were really glazed over and I don't even really remember much of it. In the second half of the book, the author had slowed down trying to be witty and actually focused on sumo. His sentences also were a little easier to read, although he still loves to use commas way too much. He really needed a proofreader for this book. Or if he had a proofreader, they should have been fired for letting something like this go to press. Here are my impressions of the second half of the book:

Positives:

1. I thought Chapter 8 was the best chapter in the whole book. The author didn't try to make up some information so his book would be well rounded, he actually just wrote about his perceptions about the Nagoya 1990 basho. It was interesting to read since I never got to experience that era first-hand. Chapters 6 and 7 are decently written in my opinion and I was intrigued by his tachiai analysis. Would have liked to see more info on this.

2. I liked the fact that he attempted to breakdown the different levels inside the makuuchi ranks and explain roughly who ends up facing who during a tournament. Not sure many other books that I've read that have dove into this level of detail.

Negatives:

1. Still too many comparisons to other sports and too many movie analogies....I'm not even sure of half the people he is referencing.

2. Overall, the sentence structure of the whole book stinks. As I mentioned before, he really should have gotten this proofread by a professional proofreader. Although, his book says "A Fan's Notes" he could have written it much better and still had the fan's perspective.

3. Chapter 13 - Their Bodies, Our Selves was really hard to read and a flop in my mind. The author tried to get philosophical and it was really hard to read and a bad ending to a really bad book.

4. Yaocho -- without hard facts or evidence, I don't want to read about it. Does it happen, I wouldn't doubt it, but I believe it is in the minority rather than the majority of rikishi.

5. Really too many other negatives to write down....

Overall Rating:

1 out of 5 :-)

If you are looking for a 30 minute quick introduction to sumo and you plan to never, ever follow sumo again, this book might be for you. However, if you are looking for a quality book about the hard facts and professional presentation, then you should look elsewhere. I am far from being a sumo expert, but I know enough about sumo to know who the sumo experts are and the author isn't one of them in my opinion.

Cheers.

Ryan

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I am evidently in the minority, but I found The Joy of Sumo to be very entertaining and informative when I first read it.

Yes, it is filled with sports comparisons to players (and sports) that I am unfamiliar with and it is not written in a "scholarly" fashion. It is definitely irreverent but it does contain information that I have not found in other works.

In the early 90's, I saw little snippets of sumo on tv (TransWorldSport) and was mildly interested (Konishiki being a fascinating figure). I browsed the library for sumo books, but only found some dry (to me) presentations on sumo history and general overviews. Then, I found the Joy of Sumo in a local bookshop. I bought it and devoured it. Despite its at times poor sentence structure, the content was fascinating and I loved the book.

Chapter 6 on tachiai and the strategies of the match was very interesting and provided more depth to what I could see on tv.

Chapter 7 on the mechanics of sumo technique and what happens during (and after) the bout presented the sumo match info much better than the other books I had previously looked at in the library.

Chapter 10 was particularly informative with its description of the basho and the different rankings in Makuuchi.

Chapter 12 on rating rikishi was particulary noteworthy as it made me start my own rating system of rikishi (though I haven't kept it up much recently).

Benjamin's book made me realize that there was a lot more to this sumo thing than I had recognized just from casual viewing. It made sumo more interesting and launched me into becoming a sumo nerd.

I think it is a great book for a casually interested fan to read in order to gain more appreciation of the sport. Then, once they are hooked, they can read the more scholarly works for a more serious approach to the rich nuances of Ozumo.

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