24 May 2019 | Chisato Tanaka | Japan Times
When U.S. President Donald Trump arrives with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take in live sumo wrestling on Sunday at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, security will be beefed up to its highest level — with bodyguards even on alert to protect the president from flying cushions tossed by excited fans, according to reports.
Due to concerns over the tightened security, Kenzo Furushima, an 83-year-old sumo enthusiast, has decided that he will not attend the final day of the tournament Sunday, even though he has a ticket for a front-row seat.
“My cane and wheelchair might be bothersome for security personnel,” Furushima said during an interview with The Japan Times at the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament on Friday. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me whether I get to see Trump because I simply want to enjoy sumo.”
Furushima is a member of the sumo support association known as Tamarikai, which has 69 of the 300 limited-membership seats surrounding the raised ring. He said he has already given away two spots in front of the ring to his close friends.
Occasionally, Furushima offers tournament tickets to friends when he is unable to go. But this time he had to provide security officials with the names and home addresses of his guest attendees to ensure that only those who have registered their personal information can attend.
To be a member of Tamarikai and have the rights to a seat, fans have to pay at least ¥4.14 million to the Japan Sumo Association once every six years and be recommended by at least two people who are “closely associated with the JSA,” Furushima said.
He explained that he had to wait eight years before a seat became available because members rarely leave the association.
However, membership is not only about money, connections and patience. Tamarikai members must have sufficiently “discerning eyes” to fully appreciate sumo.
According to a passage in the association’s book on its history, published in 2002, such members are required to “observe the match as strictly and calmly as a judge” and must “overcome their personal feelings as they sit there.” They must also refrain from talking and maintain an upright posture at all times.
Furushima, who also chairs an association of enthusiasts who support yokozuna Hakuho, worries there might not be anyone on hand to explain the history of sumo to Trump. “I hope a translator will explain the history and rituals of sumo so that he will understand that it is not just a sport,” he said.
Current members, including Furushima, normally sit beside the ring — where there is always a risk that the sumo wrestlers might tumble out and fall on them.
Trump and Abe, however, will be sitting in one of the secure box seats further away from the ring, Kyodo News reported. High-profile officials and guests normally watch the matches from special seats on the second floor of the arena. That’s where the U.K.’s Prince Charles and his then-wife, Princess Diana, sat when they watched sumo in 1986.
And while sumo spectators in the lower level of the arena normally sit cross-legged on traditional zabuton (cushions), Trump will be given a special chair for the sake of comfort.
When asked what he thought about that decision, Furushima chuckled. “It seems weird.”
However, what rankles Furushima the most is that almost all the seats in the section from where Trump and Abe will watch the action have been reserved in advance for security personnel, and are thus not available to the public.
“There are so many sumo fans who were looking forward to seeing the final matches of the tournament. Seats should be made available for them,” said Furushima. “Sumo is for people who simply love sumo. And that should not be undermined just because of the president’s visit, especially since there are already special seats for such high profile officials.”
Trump will step into the dohyō (ring) on Sunday and present the first-ever “Trump Cup” to the winner, but you will not see Furushima, who is often seen in the background during NHK’s broadcasts.
“When I’m absent, some people call me and ask if I am sick,” said Furushima. “I might get some calls this Sunday, too.”