Where Is Sumo? Japan or Mongolia?
Sumo is deep in Japanese culture; it has been a part of the country’s for centuries and its status is like a religion.
But today, no one seems to dominate the art of sumo like the Mongolians. The sport was once fueled by the impoverished of Japan, but now it’s a wealthy nation, and the youth in Japan wish to not partake in the grueling training sumo requires with possibly little incentive.
Enter the Mongolians. The three wrestlers who hold yokozuna titles today are Mongolian. A Japanese sumo wrestler hasn’t held a yokozuna title since 2000, and one hasn’t won a tournament within the last decade. Last year, Mongolian sumo wrestler Hakuho broke the 44-year-old record of most total tournament wins.
Maenoyu Taro is a retired Mongolian sumo wrestler. Today, he looks to train young Mongolians to enter the sumo world.
"[They] grew up in these harsh surroundings. I think that makes them tougher, and also able to adapt to new environments," Taro said.
And yet, despite all of the Mongolian success in sumo in recent years, there is only one school in the country that teaches the sport — Kyokushu Beya, which only opened less than one year ago. It is there where Taro is a coach.
Taro says only 15 Mongolians wrestle in Japanese high schools, which act like a farm system for the sport. There are less amateurs in sumo than professionals.
"There is almost no sumo in Mongolia," Taro said.
Taro believes the Mongolian reign in sumo "is ending now" and will be at a complete end once the champion yokozunas retire.
"There’s maybe one other guy who has a chance in the future," Taro said. "There’s just nobody below that."