Review: Sumo: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport

Sumo: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport by David Benjamin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sumo, as a sport, too often gets deified and lost in the Shinto ceremonies that are blatantly evident to all who watch, from the throwing of salt to the traditional mawashi(loincloth) the wrestlers wear. David Benjamin does a great job in smashing down the ivory tower of Japanese culture in order to reveal Sumo as what it truly is, a fascinating sport. Irreverent and stocked with colorful antidotes from Sumo history, this book is great for anyone wanting to learn more about Japan’s national sport.

Truly a thinking fan’s guide as the title suggests, the book focuses on the in-match techniques as well as the pre-match preparation of the wrestlers. Benjamin is keen on emphasizing those elements which make Sumo a great sport to watch (in person or on the couch) and is quick to bash the Japanophiles who, in his opinion, get too caught up in the Shinto rites, the cultural niceties, and the “honorable” way in which the sport is presented to the public.

What Benjamin helps to reveal is the true humanity of the sport by uncovering the real attitudes and intentions of its participants (wrestlers and administrators). By the time you finish you’ll look at each Sumo match with more clarity and with more overall enjoyment. You’ll become a fan of a sport seeped in history, masked in culture, and performed by fascinating “athletes” who are still venerated in Japan but looked at with skepticism/mockery by the West.

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