[sumo] Memories of Kushimaumi
sumorina at mac.com
sumorina at mac.com
Mon Feb 20 20:26:38 EST 2012
Belatedly I would like to share some memories of Kushimaumi, aka Tagonoura Oyakata, who died last week.
I think he may have been the first rikishi I was properly a fan of and that was due to circumstance initially, choice later.
One of the students at the university where I taught in Kobe, on hearing of my interest in sumo, and possibly because I was showing some of the photos I had taken, asked me if I would take some pictures of Kushimaumi because her grandfather was a friend of Kushimaumi's father. Of course I did. I will put some of them on my Facebook page. I have many more, but actually I only sorted photos into albums in 1990 & 1991 and the rest are in boxes - lots of boxes.
Due to this connection I attended the Kushimaumi supporters' parties before the Osaka Basho every year. I met his family as well as many of his fans, and always had a great time. On one occasion I was invited to a special party in his home town. It was a wonderful adventure on a long train trip to Wakayama and I was received warmly by the Kushima family and local Kushimaumi fans. After a great party, where I made a well received speech looking forward to the day when Kushimaumi would make the town of Shingu even more well known through his achievements on the dohyo, I was congratulated and plied with drink - toasts to Kushimaumi in beer and sake and possibly shochu as well. I had quite a headache the next day, exacerbated by a night of broken sleep, my student's grandparents having put me up and given me the best room, complete with treasured ornamental clock, which chimed out the hours with sickening regularity. Some months later on, hearing the story of my sorry state after his party, Kushimaumi laughed and thanked me for suffering to support him, and often joked with me at subsequent parties that I needn't drink to excess on his account.
I often visited the Dewanoumi Beya in Tokyo and round the country to watch keiko and show my support. Kushimaumi would always invite me, and my entourage of the day, to stay and eat with him and even served us himself. On one memorable occasion, the chanko of the day was small wiener sausages (cocktail frankfurts we'd say here in Australia), ito konyaku (a kind of root made into long, gelatinous noodles) and vegetables in a soy sauce base. I'd have to say it wasn't the most delicious thing I'd ever been served, but not inedible. Kushimaumi however quickly rejected it as not good enough for guests and sent his attendant to get some chicken, tofu, vegetables etc and prepared a new batch of chanko for us from scratch, entertaining us with various stories while we waited for the meal to be cooked. We were having such a good time, that Mainoumi, who was usually rather shy and private during chanko times, came over to join in the merriment, and tastier chanko. One of the ladies who was with me was surprised when we then went to the sumo to see Kushimaumi in a bout against one of the Ozeki. He had been so relaxed and friendly, so happy to cook for us, and serve us, and his junior, Mainoumi, that she hadn't realized Kushimaumi was the top sekitori in Dewanoumi Beya.
Another annual event was after the Osaka basho the sumo at Ise in April. I went every year with my friend, Miyoko, who was born in Ise. She had been with me to the Kushimaumi party in Osaka before the basho, so when Kushimaumi happened to stop at the dohyo iri right in front of where we were sitting and acknowledged us with a smile and nod of his head, we felt we should cheer loudly for him in the following knockout tournament. Miyoko's Ise relatives were surprised by our choice as Kushimaumi was not a star. There were 3 yokozunas, Hokutoumi, Asahifuji and Onokuni, popular rikishi like Terao, Konishiki and young Akebono and the Hanada brothers to choose from, but we continued to shout encouragement to Kushimaumi, and to our surprise he kept on winning. Yokozuna Onokuni defeated him in the final match of the day, but Kushimaumi was able to take home various prizes as runner up. He later thanked us for our vocal encouragement and said he thought he'd better not let us down, and he hadn't.
Kushimaumi began doing sumo as a child and held the record for 28 amateur sumo titles, including amateur yokozuna, but he never got beyond Maegashira 1 in pro sumo. He was unlucky with injury, in particular never really recovered from a knee injury he sustained when Kyokudozan knocked him out cold with a harite at the tachiai. Unable to control his fall he landed badly on the knee with his full weight. He once jokingly described himself to me as a "sky-diving rikishi". Ususally we talk about "elevator rikishi" who go up and down the banzuke. He said his falls were more dramatic, whenever he got to the highpoint he plunged, but, he said, luckily the parachute always seemed to prevent him from falling too far down.
He was an intelligent man of great kindness and good humour. I was proud to be his supporter during his career and delighted to pay my dues and become a member of the Tagonourabeya Support Group. I haven't paid those dues since I left Japan, but the Oyakata never failed to send me in Australia a banzukehyo each basho and sumo calendar each year, and I have followed with interest the fortunes of the members of the heya.
I saw Tagonoura Oyakata only a few weeks ago when I attended the retirement ceremonies of Iwakiyama and Futeno. We chatted in our usual friendly way and told each other we were fine and doing well. I asked after his family and the people of Shingu, who suffered a terrible natural disaster last year with flooding and landslides. The family were OK but everyone was doing it hard, but doing their best get things back to normal. What a terrible blow the Oyakata's death must have been to them. For my part, I never expected that to be our last conversation and wish I had spent longer talking with him.
Sadly I couldn't find one of my favourite pictures of Kushimaumi, relaxed and laughing, when we were sightseeing in London during the London Koen of 1991, I must have take it out of the album for some reason. He was wearing a yukata with his name and a design of whales on it. His home town, Shingu, is not so far from the now notorious whaling town of Taiji. When a British reporter commented on the pattern and asked him if he liked whales, he responded that he liked them very much, but I refrained from translating the bit about how delicious they were, and advised him to keep that to himself while in London. We had a very interesting discussion about customs and cultural differences as a result. Some years later we were talking and laughing about the incident, especially in the light of growing international anti-whaling feeling. Learning how much I liked that whale patterned yukata he very kindly made me a present of it, a lovely surprise when it arrived unexpectedly in a package a few weeks later. Now I shall treasure that yukata even more, as a reminder of the happy times and warm friendship of a good man gone much too soon.
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