As certain as Japanese politicians are crooked, some things are a given in Japan. From October 1, short sleeves won’t be seen until June 1. But thankfully, short skirts are always in fashion. Public drunkenness coupled with street-alley urinating is acceptable. A public display of affection is not. And, by God, being cold causes one to catch a cold. But beyond all this nonsense, it’s a given there’ll be an Ōzumo jungyō tour going through Tohoku in the summer.
Yet, this year it almost didn’t happen at all. The truth is that due to this baseball-betting/cardgame-wagers/yakuza-seating fiasco which resulted in the fans being penalized more than anyone, nearly all the scheduled stops on the Tohoku jungyō tour were cancelled. Fortunately, within the truncated tour of only a handful of stops, Akita City bucked the trend and didn’t cancel.
At the Akita jungyō, I met up with makuuchi rikishi Aran and Tochinoshin. We hung out, smoked, sat in the sun, ate ice cream, and chewed the fat for a couple of hours. It wasn’t really an interview, but I’ll recap what all was said and done for some insight to these men’s personalities.
Aran: Come on over and have a seat.
Valentine: Hey thanks. Nice to meet you.
Aran: You know who I am?
Valentine: Of course. You’re Aran. You do a smack up job with the NHK interviews after you get your kachikoshi. You’re Japanese is pretty damn good.
Aran: Bullshit. My Japanese is shit.
Valentine: I spent some time in Russia last year. Nice country.
Aran: You speak Russian?
Aran: How’d you get around?
Valentine: I flew by the seat of my pants, and people helped me out here and there.
Aran: Russians aren’t nice people.
Valentine: That depends on who you meet, and how much vodka you get in ‘em.
Aran: [laughs] Yeah, I suppose.
Valentine: You like vodka?
Aran: I’ll drink anything.
Valentine: Vodka? Nihonshu? Whiskey?
Aran: Yeah, I like it all.
Aran: What is this? You put vodka in here?
Valentine: Yeah, or whiskey.
Aran: What does this say?
Valentine: Sumo & Stogies. It’s a gentlemen’s society to which I am a member.
Aran: You like sumo?
Valentine: Of course.
Aran: I don’t like sumo.
Aran: Well, it’s my job…that’s all.
Valentine: You come from a wrestling background, right?
Aran: Yeah, wrestling. I won the national wrestling championship in Russia, then I trained in Germany for a year.
Valentine: You speak any German?
Aran: I was too busy training to learn anything.
Aran: Hey, you live here in Akita City?
Valentine: Yes, I do.
Aran: What the hell do you do around here?
Valentine: Watch sumo…drink whiskey…smoke cigars. It’s not as dull as you think.
Aran: I went to a snack bar last night in Akita City. Those women were filipinas, but they were ugly. I don’t know what else to do around here.
Valentine: You like living in Tokyo?
Aran: Yes. Everything is in Tokyo.
Valentine: You have a wife there, don’t you?
Aran: Yes, and a baby.
Valentine: Does your wife like living there?
Aran: Not really. She can’t speak Japanese.
Valentine: Is she lonely while you’re gone on jungyō?
Aran: Well, she’s got the baby with her. [We both have a good laugh.]
Valentine: How many rikishi came here from your heya, Mihogaseki-beya?
Aran: Just me and my tsukebito.
Valentine: You close with your tsukebito?
Aran: No, but he’s an alright guy.
Valentine: Is your oyakata strict?
Aran: No, he’s pretty easy going.
Valentine: You finished last basho with a fighting spirit prize.
Aran: Make that the last two basho.
Valentine: Do you get nervous out there in the ring?
Aran: Not anymore. You get used to it.
Valentine: Even when you fight the yokozuna.
Valentine: So tell me, before the tachiai, do you visualize in your mind what technique you’ll utilize against your opponent?
Aran: Yeah, I do that.
Valentine: Of course, you fellas don’t really give a shit at the jungyō, right? I mean, it’s hanazumo, right?
Aran: That’s right. Jungyō is for the fans. The hombasho is for us.
Valentine: You don’t seem to busy on the road.
Valentine: So what do you do with your down time?
Aran: Well, I bring around a small pc. [Take the pc out of a bag.] You see. I listen to music on here.
Valentine: What kind of music to you listen to on here?
Aran: Reggae. I like reggae. [Fires up a Bob Marley song quite loudly.]
Valentine: These other rikishi like reggae too?
Aran: I don’t know.
Around this time, my Irish buddy Orrin Connolly come over to join us.
Valentine: That’s my Irish buddy.
Connolly: It’s an island next to Britain.
Aran: I don’t know.
Connolly: Aran, your interview in the NHK booth are always impressive. You have great Japanese.
Valentine: Shit, Connolly.
Aran: You fellas like ice cream?
Valentine & Connolly: Sure.
Aran: I just told my tsukebito to go fetch us some ice cream. It’s too damn hot out here.
Connolly: Aran, you have some friends among the makuuchi?
Aran: Yeah, some friends.
Aran: We talk some.
Valentine: Does Baruto speak Russian?
Aran: Yeah, some. You know, I’m Russian, but I’m also Ossetian.
Valentine: So you speak Ossetian as well?
Aran: Yeah. Hey, it’s getting hot out here, let’s move over underneath that share tree.
We pass by Kotoshogiku and Toyohibiki as we made way to our shade tree. Just as we sat down, Tochinoshin came over to join us.
Tochinoshin: Hey, what’s going on?
Aran: Hey, have a seat. Here’s Valentine and a guy from Iceland.
Valentine: Tochinoshin, you and I go way back. I have a photo with you at Ryogoku before your hair was long enough to be in a mage.
Tochinoshin: Really!? When was that?
Valentine: It was Aki Basho…I think 2006.
Tochinoshin: I was jonidan at that time.
Valentine: It was senshuraku and you were in a playoff.
Tochinoshin: Okay, yeah I remember.
Aran (yelling at his tsukebito): HEY! BRING THAT ICE CREAM OVER HERE!
[Our ice cream arrives]
Aran: Here go ahead and take one.
Valentine, Connolly, Tochinoshi: Thanks, man.
[Just as we’re eating, some kid and his grandpa comes over and speaks to Tochinoshin.]
Grandpa: Are you Kotooshu?
Tochinoshin: No! Tochinoshin.
Aran: Sumo is Japan’s sport and Japanese are proud of it, but they can’t tell who is who among us foreign rikishi. We all look like the same bastard to them.
Connolly: Aran, who do you often get confused with?
Tochinoshin: Aran, you got a cigarette.
Aran: No. Maybe Toyohibiki does. HEY! HIBIKI! SPARE US A COUPLE OF CIGARETTES! [Toyohibiki complies without saying a word.]
Aran: You smoke?
Valentine: Cigars, my friend. That tis a smoke. You smoke cigars?
Aran: Yeah, occasionally.
Tochinoshin: Is that the brown-colored smoke?
Tochinoshin: I’ve never smoked that.
[Couple of kids come up to us and speak to Aran.]
Kid: Who are you?
Aran: You don’t know my name?
Valentine: No kid, he’s Taihō!
Aran: Ha, ha. That’s not right, I’m Taisō.
Aran: Hey, kid, I got something to show you. [Aran draws up some video on his computer screen.]
Kid: AAAAAH! That’s disgusting!
[Aran shows the video to Valentine and Connolly. It’s a video of a woman having maggots surgically removed from her eye on a video-sharing website.]
Valentine: That’s a nice find, there, Aran. [Everyone has a good laugh.]
Aran: I got a few more videos for you. [Indeed, he proceeded to share a few more videos.]
Valentine: Good stuff, my friend [everyone was having a laugh.]
Valentine & Connolly: Sure.
Aran: It’s free isn’t it?
Valentine: No, tickets aren’t free for jungyō. We bought tickets.
Aran: How much?
Valentine: I paid 3,300 yen for the cheapest seat.
Aran: That’s not bad.
Valentine: Tochinoshin, you know Aran here is married, but you still have your freedom, eh?
Aran: Hey, I’m married, but I’m still a guy, you know. [Everyone laughs.]
Tochinoshin: I can’t find a woman here. What I mean is, I want a European woman.
Valentine: Oh, not enough single European women in Japan, is there?
Valentine: Aran, didn’t you match the record for moving up to makuuchi?
Tochinoshin: He was the fastest.
Aran: I did it in eleven tournaments.
Valentine: Well, you’re looking at becoming sekiwake next basho. Where are you going to go from there?
Aran: I’ll just keep doing what I can to win. It’s my job.
Valentine: You think it would be nice to have a jungyō in your country? You know, I mean a couple of years ago you went to Mongolia for jungyō, right? How about Russia?
Aran: Aah, Russian people. I doubt they’d care much.
Valentine: You don’t think Russians are nice.
Aran: Well, do you think Americans are nice?
Valentine: It all depends on the person, you know?
Aran: Yeah, it’s the same in Russia. I really want to go to America someday.
Valentine: You’ve never been there?
Aran: Not yet. I want to go there, and Jamaica.
Valentine: Alright, well you two have to get ready for your dohyo-iri here soon so we’ll head on in. We’ll see you around.
Aran: Sounds good.
NOTE: All conversation was in Japanese, and this transcript was by memory after the fact. I didn’t fabricate shit, but I might not remember exactly everything said and in what order.