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Sumo: A Thinking Fan's Guide to Japan's National Sport (Tuttle Classics) Kindle Edition
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Instead, I found page after page telling me that sumo wrestlers are fat, uneducated brutes who laze around eating food all day. Because the writing would get stale if he simply kept repeating "By the way, did I tell you they're fat?", Benjamin thinks up creative ways of reminding us: they're Fatsoyamas, Blubberbutts, Lardies, Tubs, Great Pumpkins, and more. Sumo is: "Naked men. With breasts. Jiggling. Embracing. Touching each other..." The dohyo is a sandbox, and the ref is "the guy in the pajamas".
Because it's too difficult to remember all those names, Benjamin recommends nicknaming the rikishi. Some of the nicknames he uses are: The Sweathog, Baby Huey, Route 66, Trashcan, Dimples, The A-hole, and Humpty Dumpty. One rikishi he nicknamed The Goldfish because "a disproportionate share of the fat in his body had migrated to his face, puffing it up like a terminal case of mumps and squeezing his lips into a permanent, pudgy, protuberant 'O'". And Benjamin provides a convenient way of classifying the various rikishi. There are the Jocks, the Hippos, the Butterballs, and the Cabdrivers.
Benjamin claims to be a fan of sumo as a sport, but whatever wisdom he has to share is buried under juvenile writing full of fat jokes and failed attempts at wit. The book's potential as "a thinking fan's guide to Japan's national sport" is lost in the first few pages. The only reason I could give this review 2 stars is that occasionally, unexpectedly, the writing takes a more respectful, informative tone through snippets of a few interviews Benjamin conducted with former rikishi. The reader gets the sense that under all the garbage, there is something good to be found, but it never really gets uncovered.
If you are a fan of sumo--as a sport--and are interested in an informative, unbiased account of the intricacies of the sport, the motivations and training regimens of the rikishi, the techniques of the tachiai, and how it all comes together in the dohyo, you won't find it here.
It's a shame because I can tell that there is some good information contained in the book but I find myself so turned off by it's tone that I doubt I will be able to finish it. Irreverent is one thing, obnoxious is quite another.
Author David Benjamin claims he is a fan of sumo, but in this book he presents only his view of the sport as a political hotbed that has little honesty or commitment to the the ancient values of the sport. He has no respect for the athletes or their extensive training (if you believe this author, you would think that the only training that sumo fighters receive is running to the dining table). He is also deeply insulting to the men who serve as officials and referees.
Even worse, there is little context or basic information to help a novice sumo fan understand either the fundamentals or the fine points of the sport. We do, however, get page after page of Benjamin's thought-by-thought account of two individual sumo matches -- text that is almost embarrassing in its attempt to present the inner thoughts of the writer as he "witnesses" the matches.
I have followed sumo closely for six years. I suggest that if you are interested in learning about sumo, I encourage you to read the many fine sumo websites or Wikipedia entries that provide solid, factual information about the basics of the sport. You'll find that there are many fans who write about sumo online, and -- even though the sport has been justifiably criticized in recent years for several scandals -- still appreciate the fundamental greatness of the sport in ways that Benjamin never expresses.