taken from 'NORTH COUNTRY SPORTS AND PASTIMES' published in 1893

Wrestling in japan


IN Japan wrestling appears to be an institution of greater importance than even in our own country. The meetings for its exhibition before the public are made quite important affairs. They are mapped out and arranged annually by the ruling authorities. A distinct race selected from the native population are brought up and trained in the practice from their youth. This tribe profess to trace back their wrestlings long before the Greeks held their Olympic games on the banks of the Alpheus, At the present day it is asserted that their Mikado or Emperor, near seven hundred years before Christ, encouraged wrestling; and during this long period century after century it has been one of the most popular amusements of this strange people. It might not have continued to flourish so long had not the government assisted in keeping the game alive by introducing it into and regulating the proceedings in all towns of any size. A large staff of professionals is kept solely for this purpose, and outsiders cannot enter and compete as is done in this country.

The Japanese, from all we can glean, do not appear a race likely to be devoted to athletics.

Lighter amusements more suitable to their climate, requiring less violent bodily exertion it may be inferred, would be more to their taste or inclination. Their mode of wrestling, however, has this advantage, that it does not necessitate active preparation. Weight and bulk appear great, if not absolute, requisites in the wrestling ring. To accomplish these requirements, a fattening process is resorted to in lieu of hard work training. Ordinarily the male Japanese are not more than five feet five or six inches in height. It is a remarkable fact, however, that in the wrestling class there are many six feet men weighing fourteen stones and upwards, some few eighteen or twenty stones. "I have never anywhere," says Lindau, "seen men so large and stout as these Japanese wrestlers. They are veritable giants."

A concise description of one of their wrestling meetings may not be altogether without interest.

A special department of the government is entrusted with the duty of carrying out arrangements for holding a series of meetings in all the principal towns. A programme is annually issued, so that any town set down for visitation has sufficient time to make all needful preparations. A large plot of ground for forming the ring is selected, and enclosed with bamboos. Stages with seats are fitted up for the aristocracy and richer classes, and a small charge is made for admission. The ring is sure to be well filled, one half frequently being females gaily dressed for the occasion. The loud beating of a drum gives notice that proceedings are about to commence, and a dead silence reigns throughout the great crowd. An official comes forward and gives out, with a loud voice, the names of those about to contend; and announces, too, a list of places at which the fortunate ones have been successful. The drum again sounds, and all those appointed to wrestle enter and march round the ring, appearing as if duly impressed with the importance of the pending struggle. All are naked, with the exception of a gaudy silk girdle round the loins. After parading round the enclosure, the combatants divide themselves into two equal sides, and squat down upon their heels. A stage is erected on four pillars in the middle of the ring, and raised about half a yard. The manager calls out the names of the first pair to contend, one from each side, and at the same time announces his opinion how the betting should run. These preliminary proceedings concluded, the two called on step out and are greeted with cheers from all sides. They sprinkle the ring with rice and water before the more serious work begins ; rub rice between their hands, and drink salt and water. These curious proceedings take place in order, according to a prevalent superstitious notion, to bespeak the favour of the god who rules gladiatorial contests.

Four umpires, grave looking personages, are appointed, and stationed, pipe in rnouth, at each pillar of the raised stage. A signal is given, and the two wrestlers uttering loud defiant shouts, and crowing like cocks, make a rush at each other, with all the fury and violence of two rival tups in the breeding season. The shock and noise of two such weighty bodies meeting resound all over the ring, and the spectators after a momentary holding of their breath, give expression to their pent-up feelings by ringing shouts of admiration. Blood, in almost all cases, is seen to flow from both competitors as they separate with the rebound, and slowly fall back. Again and again they meet, each endeavouring with his utmost power, to drive his antagonist off the stage. After several rounds contested with the like violence and determination, they for a moment pause, and resort to a trial of a different sort.

They rush together and seize each other anywhere about the body or arms, incited and cheered on by the. vociferous applause of the spectators. The fiercely contested struggle becomes intensely exciting, as the athletes close, and, locked together breast to breast and shoulder to shoulder, continue the conflict, each endeavouring to grasp the other round the waist. This is effected, after pushing and wriggling about for some time, by one or other of the wrestlers. After securing a firm grip, shaking his opponent, fixing his legs in position, and gathering himself up for a final superhuman effort, he lifts his now doomed foe high up in the air, and with what Cornishmen would call a "forward heave," hurls him clean off the stage, where he lies for some time enduring a fire of bantering, and then walks quietly off. Breathless, blood-stained, and perspiring from every pore, the victor looks proudly about and is greeted with cheers renewed over and over again. After parading round the ring, with uplifted out- stretched arms, he makes a respectful acknowledg- ment, and walks off to his comrades.

The manager again comes pompously forward and summons another pair. Fresh animated betting goes on while they prepare for the onset ; and it may be this fondness for gambling common to most eastern countries^which helps to keep up the popularity of wrestling. The second couple go to work precisely as the first; then another and another, till finally the champion of the day is proclaimed, and greeted with cheers that continue for some time. Generally he is presented with a decorated belt, and, with it fastened round the waist, goes about the observed of all observers.

And this, as detailed, is Japanese wrestling. We can hardly accord it the term as understood amongst us, and cannot deem it entitled to be classed with the honoured back-hold pastime of northern England , worthy of eulogy from the most fastidious-minded. Christopher North would not applaud a Judo meeting with the hearty praise he gives to Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling on the banks of Windermere; neither would Charles Dickens have gone away from the Ferry so delighted, if the contests he witnessed had been such as the Japanese delight in. Indeed, our readers generally will, we imagine, be apt to consider the Eastern wrestling amusement no better than something akin to our mediaeval barbarism. Certainly, nothing in athletics can be considered more strikingly different, than one of our quick scientific harmless bouts, as distinguished from the butting or tupping, the pushing and hauling, the rough tumbling about, and clumsy finale, in which victory is mainly due to overpowering strength and weight.