Culture, camaraderie, competition shared in Okinawa sumo tournament

Culture, camaraderie, competition shared in Okinawa sumo tournament

by Lance Cpl. David N. Hersey, III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office
U.S. Marine Corps

HENOKO, OKINAWA, Japan -- The two competitors face off, arms intertwined and gripping each other’s colored belts as they await the signal to begin. The referee taps them on the shoulders, and they immediately grapple, trying to overturn one another using brute strength and skill.

U.S. service members and Okinawa residents competed in the annual Henoko Okinawa-Style Sumo Tournament May 31 at Mae-No-Hama field in Henoko.

The tournament is one of several events shared between Okinawa residents and U.S. service members, according to Fumio Iha, the community relations specialist with Camp Schwab, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

“It’s important to have friendly relations,” said Iha. “These events share our culture and (are) an enjoyable experience for all those attending.”

The tournament served as a cultural learning opportunity as well as a chance to experience something new, according to Lance Cpl. Dino L. Johnson, an administrative specialist with Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“It’s great to get out and see this kind of stuff,” said Johnson, a Memphis, Tenn., native. “It helps to learn more about our hosts while also giving us things we can talk about and tell our families back home.”

Okinawa-style sumo wrestling, also known as kakuriki, is a combination of Western wrestling and traditional Japanese sumo and judo, according to Iha.

Unlike Japanese sumo, each Okinawa-style sumo competitor wears a heavy “gi” or martial arts outfit tied with a red or white cloth belt. The wrestlers grab each other’s belts and attempt to force their opponent to fall on their back into the “dohyo,” or sandy pit, for one point. The first to score two points wins the bout.

The tournament consisted of four series of bouts. The first was the children’s tournament for children 15 years and younger, followed by the challenge bouts, in which anyone could challenge a person of their choice. Next came the friendship bouts, in which five Marines assigned to Camp Schwab faced off against five wrestlers from Henoko. The final event was the championship open, which was open to everyone 16 years of age and older.

Proud cheers and laughter lasted through the night until the event finally drew to a close, with Okinawa resident Gishitomi Shoji winning the championship tournament.

The tournament built upon the strong relationship between U.S. service members and Okinawa community members through competition, according to Ayumi Oshiro, an administrative specialist with 3rd Marine Logistics Group Disbursing Office, 3rd MLG, III MEF.

“Friendly competition helps them to get along,” said Oshiro. “It helps to bridge the gap between them made by language differences and leads to understanding through sportsmanship.”

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