Fan-produced content boosts sumo’s international visibility

On April 25, The Japan Times hosted a live social media discussion centered around the newly released banzuke rankings.

The 80-minute Twitter Space chat also discussed topics and questions raised by sumo followers around the world.

That interaction continued over the hours and days following the event as fans of the sport from all corners of the globe reached out with feedback and opinions.

As expected, a significant number were simply searching for basic information about the rules, structure and culture of sumo, but the full depth and breadth of foreign fans’ knowledge was also on display in the correspondence.

For anyone that has been following Japan’s national sport closely over the past couple of decades, that’s something which should come as no surprise.

Websites, forums, podcasts and YouTube channels in various languages have been a feature of sumo’s online fandom for years. It may not have been part of the public consciousness, but the sport has had a dedicated and knowledgeable following abroad for at least half a century.

Writer Bruce Henderson of sumo blog Tachiai poses with a giant macaron given as part of the France-Japan Friendship Cup to basho winners in 2016. | COURTESY OF BRUCE HENDERSON
Writer Bruce Henderson of sumo blog Tachiai poses with a giant macaron given as part of the France-Japan Friendship Cup to basho winners in 2016. | COURTESY OF BRUCE HENDERSON

Of course, it’s far from the only athletic endeavor with a passionate fan base that produces quality content of its own. But a particular combination of geographic, sporting and linguistic isolation means that unofficial coverage of sumo plays a central role for many overseas fans.

It is also something which is set to increase over the next few years as rapidly growing interest in the sport abroad fuels a desire for content.

As long as it remains possible to count on one hand the number of English-language journalists in Japan reporting primarily on sumo — with several fingers left over — the importance of fan-produced translations, blogs and reports will remain high.

While the number and variety of subreddits and Discord servers dedicated to sumo continues to expand, much of the best and most reliable information can still be found in places long familiar to veteran fans.

The Sumo Forum, an online message board that started in 2001, is closing in on half a million unique posts, and remains the central repository for much of that knowledge.

While many of its regulars know the main contributors’ true identities and meetups in real life are common, sumo-style user names are ubiquitous on the site.

The contributions that posters with names like Asashosakari and Akinomaki have made to foreign fans’ understanding of professional and amateur sumo are invaluable.

Another forum stalwart who goes by the shikona (ring name) Doitsuyama, meanwhile, created arguably one of the most important sumo tools of all time.

Sumo Reference is a searchable online database that has become the go-to first port of call for virtually every single journalist, content creator or sumo insider looking for information.

All three of those posters are German, and it’s an interesting bit of trivia that they — along with a few other fans from outside the Anglosphere — provide most of the data on sumo consumed by native English speakers.

Hebrew is the native language of one better-known fan.

From his home in Tel Aviv, musician Moti Dichne has been keeping those without the ability to read Japanese up to speed since the 1990s.

With an understanding of the language coming from a childhood partly spent in Tokyo, Dichne is not only far and away the most active user on Sumo Forum, but also a YouTuber, game creator and regular guest on TV shows in both Israel and Japan.

He also acted as an interpreter, fixer and guide when the Sadogatake stable visited Israel in 2006.

Israeli musican and sumo content creator Moti Dichne (center) poses with former yokozuna Musashimaru (left) and former ozeki Konishiki at Musashigawa stable in May 2019. | COURTESY OF MOTI DICHNE
Israeli musician and sumo content creator Moti Dichne (center) poses with former yokozuna Musashimaru (left) and former ozeki Konishiki at Musashigawa stable in May 2019. | COURTESY OF MOTI DICHNE

Dichne is well known both inside and outside the sumo world and has longstanding friendships with several former rikishi. His irreverent takes sometimes ruffle feathers, but the insights and experience he brings to translated content has ensured he remains a go-to source of information for both veteran and new fans.

In recent years, sumo content on the mailing lists, forums and websites of the late 90s and early 2000s has been supplemented by information on a number of newer platforms.

Podcasts and YouTube channels are among those with greater visibility, but a variety of news sources have helped sumo find new audiences.

Two of the standouts in recent times have been Tachiai and Grand Sumo Breakdown.

The former is a blog-style site that has numerous contributors providing specialized takes.

Whether it’s UCLA professor Leonid Kruglyak breaking down the banzuke, or Herouth (another Japanese-speaking Tel Aviv resident) providing daily translations and long threads about mawashi or regional tours, Tachiai is a great source of deeper sumo cuts.

Grand Sumo Breakdown is one of two newer podcasts — along with Sumo Kaboom — that is run by U.S.-based sumo fans. What they lack in longevity, they more than make up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to be proactive and seek out interview subjects.

Over the past few years, the two shows have been responsible for a huge amount of coverage of amateur sumo in the United States. Both have provided live streaming and commentary for tournaments in that country and helped ensure better access to the often fractured and incomplete data available in the lesser-known form of sumo.

Sumo’s international content creators come from a wide variety of backgrounds and populate a similarly diverse collection of online locales.

One thing they all have in common, however, is a love of the sport and a history of putting in enormous effort for little to no reward.

In a sport where only a tiny fraction of the overall coverage is available in languages other than Japanese, and accessing content from outside Japan is often extremely difficult or impossible, these unpaid translators, reporters, bloggers and podcasters deserve applause.

Whenever you come across them, make sure to like and subscribe.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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