story by Rose Kahele
photo by Franco Salmoiraghi
Its combatants go by non-threatening names like "Harp of the Dragon" (Kotoryu), "Little Brocade" (Konishiki) and even "Flower of Youth" (Wakanohana). Such is the incongruity and poetry of sumo, the nearly 1,500-year-old martial art in which barely clad leviathans follow precise, balletic footwork with a blink-of-an-eye attack. On June 9 and 10, sumo makes a triumphant return to the Islands at the 2007 Grand Sumo Tournament. The exhibition competition will feature more than forty sumotori from Japan, Eastern Europe, Korea and Mongolia. It's the first tournament in the US since 2005, and the first in Hawai‘i since 1993.
Sumo hardly needs explanation in Hawai‘i. Japanese contract laborers brought the sport with them when they immigrated to the Islands in the 1880s, holding basho (tournaments) at the sugarcane plantations where they worked and lived, even performing for King David Kalakaua in 1885. Sumo has remained a perennial favorite, with grand tournaments frequently televised in the Islands.
Of course, Hawai‘i also holds a special place in the sumo world; several sumotori once called the Islands home: Takamiyama (Jesse Kuhaulua) was the first foreigner to win a Japan tournament championship in 1972. He also holds nearly every individual sumo endurance record. With a fighting weight of 680 pounds, Konishiki (Salevaa Atisanoe) was the largest wrestler in sumo history. In 1993, Waimanalo boy Akebono (Chad Rowan) became the first foreign-born yokozuna (grand champion). Six years later, the Hawai‘i-raised Musashimaru (Fiamalu Penitani) became the second non-Japanese grand champion. Musashimaru and Kuhaulua, now called Azumazeki Oyakata, a revered sumo stable master and the competition's official spokesperson, will accompany the wrestlers to the tournament.
The Grand Sumo Tournament will be a curtain call of sorts for Kuhaulua. The basho will likely be his last public appearance in Hawai‘i as a sumo official. The sport's all-time iron man will finally throw in the mawashi to retire in 2009 at age 65.
2007 Grand Sumo Tournament in Hawai‘i