Japan’s Grand Champion sumo wrestler Hakuho is sponsoring six Hawai‘i sumo students and two coaches for the annual Hakuho Cup in Japan on the January 29th, 2017. These students — ages 10-14 — will represent the US in the competition of more than 1,200 youths from all over the world.
Following a request from Hawaiian coach Kena Heffernan, Konishiki — the first non-Japanese born wrestler to reach the rank of ozeki — flew from Japan to visit the student group and provide training. Japan Airlines agreed to offer free airfare for the group. Additionally, the sumo team was invited to the Consulate General of Japan in Honolulu for a special good luck send off on January 17.
Sumo has played an important role in connecting Hawai‘i and Japan. In 1881, when Hawaiian King David Kalakaua visited the Emperor of Japan, he was inspired by the traditional Japanese sport and encouraged Japanese-migrant workers in Hawai‘i to establish tournaments. In 1895, a sumo competition was held in Honolulu’s Independence Park to celebrate the end of the Sino-Japanese War. Again, in 1905, a sumo match was held in celebration of Japan’s victory in the Russo-Japanese War. In 1914, former grand champion Tachiyama visited Hawai‘i and gave wrestling exhibitions. Since then, many famous Japanese sumo wrestlers have visited Hawai‘i and the state has established several sumo associations.
Apart from sport, Hawai‘i has built a robust friendship with Japan in many other ways since the end of the war, from culinary exchange to trade. On Tuesday, December 27, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a historic visit to Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hiwai‘i, emphasizing the close ties between the two countries. Hawai‘i-Japan trade reached nearly half a billion in 2014, and the state has 21 sister relationships with Japanese cities, towns and prefectures.
Xiaoyi Wang is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University.