The high school girl in Japan is as iconic an image of Japanese popular culture as the ninja, Mt Fuji and Hello Kitty.

For whatever pop psychology reason you want to imagine, the teenage girl in a uniform, particularly those that echo the naval uniforms of Europe in the 19th century, is a constant in Japan’s mainstream (and not so mainstream) culture. More interestingly, the fighting high school girl is a uniquely popular phenomenon in Japan – case in point, the iconic characters of Sukeban Deka and Sailor Moon.

1989 High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament
1989 High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament

In promotion of the 101st High School Sumo Kanazawa Tournament, to be held on Sunday, May 21, 2017, a video called “Sumo Girls Eighty Two Techniques” was released. The Japan pop culture site, SoraNews24, provides details on these 82 techniques.

Most people, however, are likely more interested in the visuals.

 

Sumo Girls 2

Sumo Girls 1

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Twenty-six sports were recommended as new additions to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. As many of you now know, Tokyo2020 and the IOC selected five new competitions: baseball/softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing.

But there were others recommended that I was either surprised about or unfamiliar with. I’ve created a list below of all the “sports” that were considered officially by Tokyo2020 for the next Summer Games. I took the liberty to make sense of them by organizing them into four categories, which you could most certainly dispute.

sports-nominated-for-tokyo2020

The Olympics are, in a way, an endorsement of the international relevance of an organized sport or gaming activity. This year, there was a conscious emphasis to increase the youth following, so skateboarding (roller sports), sports climbing and surfing were added.

Baseball and softball were actually Olympic competitions from 1992 to 2008, so it probably was not a difficult decision with the Olympics returning to Asia, where baseball is very popular. However, tug of war, which was an Olympic competition from 1900 to 1920, did not make the cut.

I was faintly familiar with Netball, which is popular in Singapore where I lived a couple of years. It is a derivative of basketball, played mainly by women. But I was not familiar with Korfball, which originated in the Netherlands and is similar to basketball, but certainly not the same. First, the teams are composed of both 4 men and 4 women. Second, you can score from all angles around the basket. Third, there is no dribbling, and fourth, you can’t shoot the ball if someone is defending you. Watch this primer for details.

Orienteering is new to me, but then again, I was never in the Boy Scouts. Orienteering is a category of events that require the use of navigational skills, primarily with the use of a map and compass. Most are on foot, but some are under water, or in cars or boats. Think The Amazing Race, without all the cameras. The video gives you an idea of what this activity is like.

DanceSport is essentially competitive ballroom dancing, which is popular in Japan. The 2004 movie “Shall We Dance” with Richard Gere and Jeffifer Lopex is a re-make of the 1996 Japanese film of the same name. A film that you may know that focuses on the competitive side of dance (with a smattering of American football) is “Silver Linings Playbook” with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro.

And then there’s Bridge and Chess, what most people refer to as games as opposed to sports. I used to play chess a lot, since I grew up in the days of Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. And while I won second place in a chess tournament when I was 13, I would never experience the mentally and physically draining levels of tension that world-class chess masters go through. Still, is it a sport?

Does it matter?

roys-chess-trophy
The second-place chess trophy I won at a competition at the Manhattan Chess Club when I was 13 years old. (If you must know, there were only three competitors.)

Mongolia marching in tokyo 1964

For the first time, Mongolia joined the Olympic community as it paraded through the National Stadium during the Opening Ceremonies of the 1964 Tokyo Games. Joining 19 other nations like Niger, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Malaysia, Nepal, Mali and Cambodia, Mongolia sent 21 athletes to the Summer Games.

Among them walked a legend to be, a freestyle wrestler named Jigjidiin Mönkhbat. While Mönkhbat was knocked one round short of the medal round in 1964, he would go on to be Mongolia’s first Olympic silver medalist in Mexico City in 1968, placing second in middleweight freestyle wrestling.

Jigjidiin Mönkhbat in Tokyo
Hakuho’s father, Jigjidiin Monkhbat (right), in Tokyo 1964.

At the age of 43, Mönkhbat had a son, one who grew up in Ulan Bator, and rode horses and herded sheep in the Mongolian steppes in the summers. At the age of 15, the son, Mönkhbatyn Davaajargal, would move to Japan to begin a life in Japan and a career in sumo. In Japan he is known as Hakuho and no sumo wrestler, Japanese or otherwise, has won more sumo championships (33) than Hakuho.

Hakuho is called Yokozuna, which is the highest rank a sumo wrestler can hold. In May, 2006, Hakuho was one rank lower, Ozeki, but was wrestling so well there was significant anticipation that he would win his first sumo tournament. According to this February 6, 2014 article in the Nikkei Asian Review, Hakuho needed the inspiration of his father to help him become champion for the first time.

In May 2006, Hakuho found himself on the cusp of his first tournament victory. All he needed to do was win his bout on the final day of the 15-day event. The night before, he was so nervous he could not eat or sleep. His father, however, led by example — though perhaps not consciously.

Jigjid had come to see his son secure title No. 1. He was staying at a hotel near the sumo hall in Tokyo. Hakuho joined him, but tossed and turned all night.

As dawn began to break, a thought occurred to Hakuho: His father had been loudly snoring away. This realization “relaxed me enough to finally get some sleep,” Hakuho said. He won his bout. A year later, he reached the pinnacle of sumo — the rank of yokozuna.

Hakuho and father