In the heart of Sao Paulo, you can hear the voice of the sensei counting in Japanese, yet the circle of wrestlers surrounding him is quite a different image than what one would expect. In contrast to the traditional model of sumo wrestlers, this group includes women too. Something which would never happen in Japan. The wrestlers are wearing boxer shorts or bicycle shorts underneath their belts, and the ladies are dressed in a specially designed garment. These men are mostly thin with goatees, tanned skins and very few of them has any Japanese in their ancestry.
The focal point of the group of a wrestler is the 342 pound Rui Junior. He is not only the most significant person in the room but also the most agile of them all. 13 Years ago Junior helped his uncle who was in the tent rental business when he was assisting with a rental for a sumo event in Londrina. This was his first-ever contact with the Japanese wrestling style. He was 12 years old then, now at 25 years of age he is proud of his 14 Brazilian championship titles, he has been at the Worlds four times and ended up in the third position twice.
The Japanese Population in Brazil
Before the entire situation starts to sound stranger than fiction, it is wise to remind ourselves that Brazil is indeed home to the most significant Japanese population outside of Japan. About 1.5 million Japanese people live in Brazil, and their culture made an impact on Brazilian culture. In 1888 slavery was abolished in the country, and they experienced a shortage of labourers in the coffee plantations. This lead to an influx of Japanese immigrants into the country from around 1908 onwards. Just after WWII, Brazil became the popular destination for many Japanese to go and live in once again. The Japanese people in Brazil are referred to as nikkeis. The influence of these nikkeis can be seen in various Brazilian restaurants which serve a combination of the two nations’ favourites, like sushi rolls with passion fruit. Another influence into the Brazilian culture, which remained was sumo wrestling.
Sumo Growing in Interest in Brazil
Initially, it was only the nikkeis who practised sumo, but the wrestling culture collected popularity under the Brazilian people and the wrestling style shifted in line with other mainstream sporting activities. Under the guidance of the sensei Kioshi Shimazaki, one of the nikkeis of the area surrounding the Mie Nishi gym, a group of wrestlers gathered for practice. Some were brought here by accident like Junior; other younger wrestlers found their love for the sport in the manga-turned anime, Hinomaru Sumo. One thing they all do have in common is that they are all here to prepare for the upcoming Sumo World Championship which takes place in Japan in October. During this event, the regulations are far more relaxed than with usual sumo events and athletes can be of any age, size or gender. A game where Brazilians can show off their skills in Japanese style wrestling.