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Asameshimae

Pesky Foreign types

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I know this is an oft discussed topic by both Japanese and foreign fans, but it never ceases to amaze me how dominant foreigners are in the sport. There are currently 42 foreigners in 44 stables (what a coicidence!), 2/3 of which are Mongolians. Checking the DB list, none of them currently are below Sandanme, with most of them being in makushita or above. The only one currently below this is Sadahikari, who can't be blamed as he was in mae-zumo.

http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?shikona=&heya=-1&shusshin=202&b=201405&high=-1&hd=-1&entry=-1&intai=-1&sort=3

So I guess foreigners are hungrier for success, they are bigger (though the most represented group of Mongolians are not so much bigger at all are they?), they have more consequences of failure (going all the way back home, as opposed to taking the train), many of them come from countries with a pervasive culture of wrestling, they don't listen to their coaches and senior stablemates who tell them to keep their sumo simple and straightforward and avoid tricky moves. What else is it, or is that enough? Has anyone checked to see if the dropout rate for foreigners is higher earlier on? That would explain less foreign rikishi in the Jo ranks, but contradict the hungrier for success part possibly.

I didn't much like the kyokai's idea of limiting foreign participation, even circumventing the innovativeness of having foreign wrestlers make the big decision to take Japanese citizenship (and give up their original citizenship as per Japanese law) to keep the number low. But, heck, what if they hadn't? Looking at the success rates, it would likely be overwhelmingly dominated by foreigners, and would not go down well with Japanese fans, or maybe even foreign ones.

Edited by Asanomeshi

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I know this is an oft discussed topic by both Japanese and foreign fans, but it never ceases to amaze me how dominant foreigners are in the sport. There are currently 42 foreigners in 44 stables (what a coicidence!), 2/3 of which are Mongolians. Checking the DB list, none of them currently are below Sandanme, with most of them being in makushita or above. The only one currently below this is Sadahikari, who can't be blamed as he was in mae-zumo.

http://sumodb.sumogames.de/Rikishi.aspx?shikona=&heya=-1&shusshin=202&b=201405&high=-1&hd=-1&entry=-1&intai=-1&sort=3

So I guess foreigners are hungrier for success, they are bigger (though the most represented group of Mongolians are not so much bigger at all are they?), they have more consequences of failure (going all the way back home, as opposed to taking the train), many of them come from countries with a pervasive culture of wrestling, they don't listen to their coaches and senior stablemates who tell them to keep their sumo simple and straightforward and avoid tricky moves. What else is it, or is that enough? Has anyone checked to see if the dropout rate for foreigners is higher earlier on? That would explain less foreign rikishi in the Jo ranks, but contradict the hungrier for success part possibly.

I didn't much like the kyokai's idea of limiting foreign participation, even circumventing the innovativeness of having foreign wrestlers make the big decision to take Japanese citizenship (and give up their original citizenship as per Japanese law) to keep the number low. But, heck, what if they hadn't? Looking at the success rates, it would likely be overwhelmingly dominated by foreigners, and would not go down well with Japanese fans, or maybe even foreign ones.

Well, for starters, the limit itself makes it so that the heya will recruit any and all Japanese kids interested in the sport, no matter how hopeless, while picking and choosing carefully their single foreign deshi. Jonokuchi and Jonidan are mostly reserved for rikishi who are

a) New to the sport

b) Recovering from long injury

c) Content with living in the sumo world without serious expectations of a career

It makes sense that you will not find many foreigners there, since every foreigner recruited has (in his oyakata's opinion) the potential for a career, otherwise he wouldn't have been recruited in the first place for that one precious spot.

I am not sure that if there were no limit on foreigners that the "success rate" as you call it would be equally high (in fact I am pretty sure it wouldn't be).

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Good point. I really hadn't thought as much about picking and choosing. Additionally they've got to worry whether their candidate can handle Japanese life, Japanese heya life. If you are going to take the chance you are going to go with someone with potential.

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By this logic, I would think the 1 rikishi per heya rule is hurting the Kyokai more than helping. Cherry picked wrestlers have a higher chance of going to the top and making Japanese wrestlers look weak. I suppose the only solution is lifting the ban on multiple wrestlers but I don't see that happening.

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I didn't much like the kyokai's idea of limiting foreign participation, even circumventing the innovativeness of having foreign wrestlers make the big decision to take Japanese citizenship (and give up their original citizenship as per Japanese law) to keep the number low. But, heck, what if they hadn't?

As far as I am aware, Mongolia does not allow dual citizenship in any case.

So I'm not sure I understand what was put in place by the kyokai in this regard, but Mongolian law would obviously apply to those rikishi opting for a change of nationality, regardless of kyokai rules.

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Japanese law also requires it's citizens to have only one citizenship - independent of anything to do with sumo.

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Japanese law also requires it's citizens to have only one citizenship - independent of anything to do with sumo.

I see.

I would be interested to know which of the older guys have taken Japanese citizenship. I'm 'sure' Kyokutenho has, but how about the current Yoks and guys like Asasekiryu, Tokitenkuu etc.?

That is a big decision for any individual, but I think especially for Mongolians. Most surely see it as convenience and not an "identity".

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The domination of the Mongolians interests me and I expect it is because of the pervasive wrestling culture in that country. In any sport, the younger you start the better you are (see Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters etc) and my understanding is that Mongolian kids are wrestling from the time they can walk. One of the Mongolian posters here like Wanderer could probably elucidate on this a bit.

For the other foreign rikishi, the one thing they tend to have in common is that, not only do they have a wrestling background in their own country, but they all tend to be freaking huge. Look at the non-Mongolian foreigners who are currently in Makuuchi (Aioyama, Kaisei, Osuna) and the recent successes (Baruto, Kokkai, Osh, Aran, Tochinoshin) and the thing they all have in common is that they have really big bodies, which gives them a reach and strength advantage over their Japanese counterparts. The bigger they are the more successful they tend to be. They almost always have a height and reach advantage over the Japanese guys they are facing. Their size doesn't guarantee them success but it provides them with a natural advantage and helps them compensate for skill deficiencies. Strength, and in particular, reach always provides an advantage in combat sports - that's why there are weight classes. In particular I've noticed recently that Aioyama has worked out how to use that reach and he has got significantly more wins as a result of it. He has twigged that he can use his reach to keep his opponents away from him and then as they get desperate to get closer to him he can use that reach to get a hand on the back of their head as they move forward and get the pull down win. There was a classic example of this in this basho just gone against Shohozan. In contrast, see the basic lack of success of Takanoyama, who doesn't have the height or weight advantages of his fellow gaijins and consequently, tends to get slapped around a lot.

Big doesn't always equal success, but it helps:).

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"That is a big decision for any individual, but I think especially for Mongolians. Most surely see it as convenience and not an "identity".

Sorry, I don't see that at all. I would guess there are very few people in the world who see their citizenship, their country, their culture as a convenience. It is most certainly an identity for most everyone. I certainly know I feel that way. I don't think Mongolians are anything special in that regard.

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"That is a big decision for any individual, but I think especially for Mongolians. Most surely see it as convenience and not an "identity".

Sorry, I don't see that at all. I would guess there are very few people in the world who see their citizenship, their country, their culture as a convenience. It is most certainly an identity for most everyone. I certainly know I feel that way. I don't think Mongolians are anything special in that regard.

I am guessing Taigiin meant that those rikishi who do take the Japanese citizenship do so not because they feel Japanese, but rather for convenience, not that they think of their Mongolian citizenship as a convenience. This is very often the case with most naturalized athletes, there are very few cases where the choice to switch nationalities is based on actual national identification of the athlete; its almost always a matter of convenience and professional advantages.

I would be interested to know which of the older guys have taken Japanese citizenship. I'm 'sure' Kyokutenho has, but how about the current Yoks and guys like Asasekiryu, Tokitenkuu etc.?

I believe none of the Yokozuna have taken any steps towards taking Japanese citizenship. I remember Kyokutenho, Kotooshu, Tokitenku and Kaisei have made the switch. I don't think any of the other recent foreign sekitori have, but of course could have missed someone :).

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I see what you mean but the part that confused as to the meaning was "it is a big decision especially for Mongolians" Anybody who takes Japanese citizenship must give up his/her original one.

Edited by Asanomeshi

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I see what you mean but the part that confused as to the meaning was "it is a big decision especially for Mongolians" Anybody who takes Japanese citizenship must give up his/her original one.

I see that "it is a big decision especially for Mongolians" could be understood in several ways. I did say too 'for any individual'.. but you were right to question me in that regard.

(And thanks for clarifying the other aspect krindel)

I may be wrong, but I guess I am implying that national identity is somehow "stronger" among Mongolians than other cultures I have sampled. From my travels and experience in the 10 odd countries that I have either lived in or being closely associated with, I would suggest that Mongolians are quite exceptional in how proud they are to be Mongolian. This is meant as a huge complement to Mongolians and not an insult to other nationalities (including my own). It is just my experience/feeling and not meant to be controversial.

Note I have never been to Japan (this will change this year) but I imagine a strong national identity there too.. which may in part have lead to this thread jokingly referring to foreigners as "pesky" for invading the national sport.

And to return to the question at hand, I think krindel nailed the reason why foreign rikishi appear to be of higher average quality than Japanense rikishi, combined with the raw physical attributes of some of these foreign recruits.

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Your point is well made. If you have lived or worked closely with that number of countries people, you would get a good sense of their national identity. Your statement was much less flippant than I originally thought. I am in Japan, and the largest Mongolian festival held every year is not too far from where I live. I tend to make it every year (all the big Mongolian sumo guys usually attend one day) and I had a talk with a Mongolian guy after an anthem of sorts was played and he tried to give me the impression that Mongolians are very proud to be Mongolian, but I wasn't sure of how biased he was at the time. I guess he really meant it.

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A bit late to this, but it's also something to consider from the point of view of the rikishi themselves. You're not going to uproot yourself to a new, strange culture where, no matter how you acclimate you will always be seen as an outsider, where you're expected to be mostly naked most of the day, where you have to learn a new and (for Europeans) exceptionally difficult language, and to undergo a training regimen unlike anything you've experienced before, all on the chance that you MIGHT be able to make a living at wrestling, if you weren't pretty damn sure you'd be successful at it.

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Indeed. Makes me think of one less than optimal thing about it all. The foreign guys tend to pick up spoken Japanese but their written and reading usually suffer. I think more effort should be put into their education on this point. I realize that athletes live all over the world and never bother picking up the local language but such athletes are often well paid people with people to do that for them. I suspect the gap has got even worse as the averag person can go online to get their their fix of the latest goings on in their own language. No need to resort to Japanese.

Edited by Asameshimae

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This is neither pertinent to the thread or even PC I suppose, but I am still patiently waiting for the day a black African makes it to the dohyo. I remember how incongruous it was when the Polynesians came in and even a bit more so when the white skinned guys came in. Now we've had an Arab too. It would be nice to see I think. I know we have had Sentoryu and that was something but it would be good for sumo (or maybe just me?) to see a full black African making good on the dohyo.

I realize sumo is no exception to racial divides, an example being the scarcity of Africans (or even African descendent) athletes in figure skating. That's all the reason I want to see a black rikishi. Or even more than one for that matter. Yes, I know ama sumo has black athletes but I'm an Ozumo man so..

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By this logic, I would think the 1 rikishi per heya rule is hurting the Kyokai more than helping. Cherry picked wrestlers have a higher chance of going to the top and making Japanese wrestlers look weak. I suppose the only solution is lifting the ban on multiple wrestlers but I don't see that happening.

If that limit had never been imposed, the foreigners who joined under this more strict rules would have presumably also joined under a more relaxed one in addition to those who would have gotten a chance. The number of Masutoo and Oorora types would probably grow thus making the success ratio less impressive, but the Japanese rikishi would be overshadowed by foreign talent nevertheless.

What has been mentioned many times but on not this thread as a reason for foreign success in Ozumo is the places most rikishi come from. For your average Japanese urban "kid" the prospect of becoming a sumo-san is not the most animating, but for Osunaarashi, or the Russians it certainly is. In an interview (2007?) Hakurozan maintained that the training regime in Japan was not very hard (comparing to what he had in Russia) and that getting used to it was not very difficult. Problems he had with other aspects of sumo.

That partially explains why we are yet to see a Scandinavian rikishi.

Edited by shumitto
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If that limit had never been imposed, the foreigners who joined under this more strict rules would have presumably also joined under a more relaxed one in addition to those who would have gotten a chance. The number of Masutoo and Oorora types would probably grow thus making the success ratio less impressive, but the Japanese rikishi would be overshadowed by foreign talent nevertheless.

Agreed. I'm pretty sure the Kyokai prefers, say, 30 foreign sekitori out of 50 applicants, than 40 sekitori out of 100. It's about how many sekitori spots are taken up by foreigners overall, not what the average success rate is.

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