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[Historic Kansai] Where does Kotooshu's popularity come from?

By Junzo Tanaka
As the year draws to a close, sumo enthusiasts are excitedly looking forward to the New Year Grand Sumo Tournament which will open on January 8 at Tokyo's Kokugikan arena. The performance of Kotooshu, the first European from Bulgaria to become ozeki, is the focus of attention.
Good performance in the New Year tournament will pave the way for his promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna (grand champion).
Thanks to Kotooshu's spectacular showing, it has become widely known that there are quite a few sumo fans outside Japan. But sumo was already known in foreign countries long before. Comedy king Charlie Chaplin, while on a tour in Japan, was watching sumo on May 15, 1934, when then prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai was critically wounded by fanatic military officers and died later. It later transpired that Chaplin himself was a target of the attack and he was spared his life just because he watched sumo.
Chaplin was reportedly impressed by the good manner and politeness of sumo wrestlers who, under traditional rules, stretch their arms on the ring to show their opponents before a match that they possess nothing harmful, and bow after the match without showing emotion whether they win or lose.
It is a virtue in Japan to hide emotions. The practice is particularly pronounced in the world of sumo. Futabayama, known as the greatest yokozuna of all time, kept mum when his record winning streak was broken in the prime of his career and spectators burst into an uproar.
Sumo wrestlers are rated not only by their strength but also by their personal character. Kotooshu's popularity may be attributed not so much to his strength and good looks as to his gentle manner.
Sumo originated in Kansai. ""Nihon Shoki""(Chronicles of Japan), one of the nation's oldest history books written in the Nara Era (710-784), records a sumo match that was held in the late 7th century between two of the greatest champions of that era-Nominosukune and Taimanokehaya - in the presence of the Emperor. Nominosukune, who won the match, had a gentle character and recommended many good policies to the Emperor. His posterity thrived for generations.
Nominosukune is regarded as the symbol of intelligence and strength, and there are shrines dedicated to him in various parts of the country. The fabled match between Nominosukune and Taimanokehaya took place near what is now Sakurai City, Nara Prefecture, and a small shrine, called Sumo Shrine, stands in its vicinity. There are a mound and a shrine dedicated to Nominosukune in Tatsuno City in Hyogo Prefecture where he died. Meanwhile, Katsuragi City in Nara Prefecture hosts a shrine dedicated to the loser.
The sumo ancestors, wherever they are enshrined, must be pleased by Kotooshu's performance and the global popularity of sumo.