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Bowled Over

April 9, 2013

How do Japan’s famous wrestlers pack on so much heft? Scott Haas explores the sumo secret to staying fabulously flabby.

Published on Apr 9, 2013


Sumo wrestling these days is an extravagant sport with six seasons—January, March, May, July, September and November— and if you are lucky enough to be in Japan when matches are held, go. Few events are as much fun as watching two enormous men trying to wrestle one another to the ground. Each bout lasts mere seconds, but it is a full day of battle. The crowd, sated on chicken skewers and cold beer, shouts out their favorites.

Sumo wasn’t always so much a gathering of passionate patrons and gamblers. Its roots, like so much of what goes on in Japan, lie in Shinto tradition. From the purification that precedes the fights, the tossing of the salt and the parade of warriors, you might as well be watching an intricate religious ritual.

While it may be difficult to picture yourself in a mawashi (thong) inside the dohyū (sumo wrestling ring), you can start to imagine the lifestyle by sampling the sumo diet. These days, the average sumo is almost 2 meters tall and weighs about 188 kilos. How do they get so big? One
word: Chankonabe.

Before you go to a match, take the time to visit one of the many restaurants around the stadium in Tokyo that serve the sumo-fattening staple chankonabe. It’s a marvelous stew, cooked at your table, made up of chicken, beef or fish, and served with green vegetables. Once the chicken broth, sake and soy is boiled, and the main ingredients are added, scoop out the bits you want to create your own perfect bowl. Few dishes are as deeply satisfying. You taste the seasonal, supremely fresh ingredients and because you’re the chef, you control the texture,
rareness and distribution of the hearty fare. It’s a flat-out delicious feast.

While this high calorie dish is eaten several times a day by one wrestler, you’ll try it as a shared meal with friends. Throughout the alleys and streets around the sumo stadium in Tokyo, known
as Ryogoku Kokugikan, there are dozens of chankonabe establishments, often run by former wrestlers. Affiliated with the various stables where fighters are trained, each of the restaurants displays its own photos of famous champions, and are a great way to participate in the mysteries of one of the world’s strangest sports.


2-9-6 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku;
+81 3 3635 5349

2-17-6 Ryogoku, Sumida-ku;
+81 3 3632 5600


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