Things Japanese/Wrestling

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Wrestling. The wrestlers must be numbered among Japan's most characteristic sights, though they are neither small nor dainty, like the majority of things Japanese. They are enormous men, mountains of fat and muscle, with low sensual faces and low sensual habits, enormous eaters, enormous drinkers. But their feats of strength show plainly that the "training" which consists in picking and choosing among one's victuals is a vain supersitition.

The wrestlers form a class apart, divided into grades, and having traditional rules for their guidance. The most important of these refer to the forty-eight falls which alone are permitted by the laws of the sport, namely, twelve throws, twelve lifts, twelve twists, and twelve throws over the back. The matches take place in a sanded ring, encircled by straw rice-bales and protected from the sun by an umbrella-like roof supported on four posts. The wrestlers are naked, but for a gay-coloured apron. An umpire, who bears in his hand a fan, stays in the ring with them, to see that there be fair play and strict observance of the rules. The spectators are accommodated in the boxes of what resembles a temporary theatre surrounding the arena; but as the religions of Japan are nowise Puritanical, this theatre is sometimes erected in the grounds of a popular temple. The finest wrestling is to be witnessed twice yearly at the temple of Ekō-in in Tōkyō, during the months of January and May. Generally the combats are single, but occasionally sides are formed of as many as ten or twenty each. The plan then is for each side to choose a champion, it being incumbent on the victor to throw three adversaries in succession before he can gain a prize. As he himself is necessarily blown by the first or first two struggles, while his new adversary is quite fresh and springs upon him without a moment's interval, this is a great trial of endurance. To instance the popularity of the ring, it may be mentioned that a single ten days' season has been known to draw over 28,000 spectators. Devotees of the sport are sometimes carried away so far by their enthusiasm as to throw to a favourite champion articles of clothing or anything else that may be at hand. Not that the recipient retains any object thrown. One of his pupils brings it next day as a token to the owner, who then redeems it by a present of money.

The queerest historical episode connected with wrestling is that the Japanese throne was once wrestled for. This happened in the ninth century, when, the Mikado having died and left two sons, these wisely committed their rival claims to the issue, not of real, but of mimic warfare.

What is termed Jūjutsu is a separate art, and ranks higher in aristocratic esteem than the ordinary wrestling (Sumō) practised by the fat wrestlers. The police are officially instructed in Jūjutsu, and the Nobles' School and other academies have classes in it. Its principles, like those of so many Japanese arts, were formerly handed down as an esoteric secret from teacher to teacher; but the leading idea has always been clear enough,—not to match strength with strength, but to win by yielding to strength, in other words, by pliancy. Various ways of causing apparent death by pressure, and of recalling to life from such dead swoons, bone-setting, and also matters connected rather with moral than with physical training are included in the course.

Books recommended. Brinkley's Japan and China, Vol, III, p. 65 et seq.Jūjutsu, by J. Kanō, in Vol, XVI. Part II. of the "Asiatic Transactions."—One similarly entitled, by T. Shidachi. in Vol, I. of the "Transactions of the Japan Society."—Mr. Kanō's two Jūjutsu schools in Tōkyō enjoy great celebrity.—An unusual amount of rubbish seems to have been circulated abroad on the subject of Jūjutsu and its effects on the health of the Japanese nation. One imaginative American author goes so far as to inform us that, owing to such appropriate physical training, neither rheumatism nor phthysis exists in this favoured land, nor even dyspepsia. Now it so happens that rheumatism and phthysis rank among the direst of Japanese scourges. As for dyspepsia, see p. 181 of the present work, end of second paragraph.