Learning Japanese Spirit from a Hawaiian, a Novice Reporter Meets Akebono

With the current state of emergency in Japan, the sports world continues to observe self restraint. While games are on hold, Nikkan Sports is giving sports reporters a chance to look back on some significant memories they’ve made through the years. Today in Nikkan’s “My Memories as a Sports Reporter,” Imamura Kento recalls his first run in with the 203cm, 230kg (6’8, 500+lbs) Hawaiian born Yokozuna Akebono. The following are Imamura’s words:

At first I didn’t realize someone was calling for me. Once more, “Oi!” barked a low voice. Only having been reporting on sumo for 2 days at the time, I felt a pair of sharp eyes looking my way. It was October 3rd, 2003, and I was on a visit to Azumazeki-beya where on arrival, I bowed and took my place in the back of the room to observe morning practice. I realized it was (former Yokozuna) Akebono-oyakata’s harsh voice addressing me.

The day before, top division wrestler Takamisakari (now head of Azumazeki) had injured his right shoulder while sparring with Asashoryu. Having come to get information on his status, I may have been a bit nervous. As for Akebono, I’d only seen this massive figure on TV before, and my mind was racing as I timidly approached. He glared down at my press pass, and fear overtook.

“You, how about a greeting?” In my flustered state I gave my name. “Not to me!” Akebono’s voice got louder, “To the master. It’s common courtesy to greet the master when entering a stable. Isn’t that the Japanese way?”

I guess everyone knows that, but there is a lot of time during training that the room goes quiet and the crashing together of bodies, sometimes heads, echoes. I’m well aware that even breathing can cause a disturbance, so an underling reporter who doesn’t understand this can easily be ejected from such a place. So as not to be distracting, I thought I’d just stay in the corner. I was under the impression that even a greeting could be disrespectful.

I can still remember how I felt when Akebono gave me that lecture on ‘manners no matter what.’ Wasting no time, I turned to stablemaster Azumazeki (former Sekiwake Takamiyama) and bowed. A smile came across his face and he laughed. Turning to face Akebono again, I started from the beginning. I introduced myself once again and said in a soft voice, “I definitely will not forget that.” Being taught ‘the Japanese spirit’ by someone from Hawaii is something I have carried with me as the foundation of my reporting career.

Then one week later, the morning of November 6th, the words “Akebono to participate in K-1”  leapt out at me from the frontpage of Nikkan Sports. I needed to get the scoop. When I went back to the stable, Azumazeki-oyakata was clearly disappointed.

“After I found out, I realized his luggage was gone,” said Azumazeki-oyakata. And although he had received Akebono’s request to retire, “I did not want to use these words, but I’ve been betrayed,” he said resentfully. Where was that “Japanese spirit” that Akebono had admonished me about just one week prior? At the time, even I was taken aback.

Despite that, since switching to K-1 and eventually pro-wrestling, Akebono has visited Azumazeki-beya on occasion, and could be seen shoulder to shoulder with his stablemaster. Recently he attended the funeral of former Ushiomaru (who had taken over Azumazeki-beya after Takamiyama’s retirement in 2009). There’s not a chance in the world that Akebono would be impolite. That’s the image I have of him.

Source: Nikkan Sports

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