Fighting for Sumo: Harsh Life Deters Would-Be Wrestlers

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"It was a typical afternoon in which I had nothing to do," recalls Chino. "I was zapping through the channels and on one of them there was a report that they were looking for wrestlers." At the time, he weighed 63 kilos. "It was two weeks before the application deadline. I started eating as much as I could," he says. To his surprise, he was immediately accepted to the prestigious stable. He adopted the ring name Ginseizan, which, depending on the context, can mean silver, star or mountain.

After the training session, Chino's stablemates come out of the bathroom freshly washed. Even in their living room, most of them run around half-naked, wearing only boxer shorts. One of them rolls a flat, round table into the middle of the room and places some cushions on the wooden floor.

They are eating a typical sumo wrestler dish called chankonabe, a protein-rich stew with meat and vegetables, including rice, fish or meatballs. Chino has to cook lunch and dinner for himself and six other wrestlers. Each of them consumes over 10,000 calories every day. That's the equivalent of 10 portions of Wiener schnitzel with French fries.

Before every competition, though, he doesn't cook pork or beef, but rather chicken -- out of superstition. Pigs and cattle stand on four legs, but a chicken only needs two, just like a sumo wrestler.

And what happens if he fails to make a career for himself as a top-notch wrestler? Or if he, like so many sumo novices before him, becomes a diabetic or develops joint problems from the force-feeding? Then he'll move to South America, says Chino, "to a warm country where it's not so expensive."

In any case, both of the most common jobs that failed or stranded sumo wrestlers in Japan end up working would be out of the question: bouncer and soup chef.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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