SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport



From the Timaru (N.Z.) Herald, Sunday, 16 January 2011
Joy Of Sumo
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SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport #1
SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport #2


Author David Benjamin approaches the explanation of sumo with a keen eye for the sport’s nuances, but also with tongue in cheek and a sympathy for the reader. His goal is not merely to explain sumo but also to entertain, even if this requires him to digress into realms far distant from sports, including — for example — Victor Hugo’s analysis of the Battle of Waterloo, or Nobel laureate Neils Bohr’s fondness for Western movies..
Readers of Benjamin’s previous sumo book, The Joy of Sumo, as well as his memoir The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked, have remarked that Benjamin’s style and humor make for a fun read regardless of the topic, and even regardless of whether Benjamin sticks to the topic (as his English teachers constantly begged him to do).
A review of The Last Kid Picked, by Chuck Twardy in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, conveys an insight often applied to Benjamin’s work: “…Benjamin’s tales of pickup ball or fetid-pond fishing are, for the most part, richly hilarious. He retains a little boy’s flair for spinning epics from anecdotes, and he applies to it an adult’s taste for irony. Don’t read this at bedtime — your laughter might wake up the kids…”
Here are samples from SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport.

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“… Sumo is, minute for minute, split-second for split-second, the quintessential spectator sport. It’s sudden and violent, with almost no rules. One guy against the other and the ref (most of the time) is just another pretty pair of pajamas. The only guy who’ll ever blow a whistle is the drunk in the 53rd row…” (Introduction)

“… Remember. For most of us aging foreigners, what was the first sumo we ever saw? Five seconds once a year on ESPN2, right? It seemed like the camera angle was always the same. You’re sitting there on the couch beside your impressionable five-year-old daughter and suddenly you’re both looking up at the world’s biggest ass, its coloring a whiter shade of pale, with these wormy bands of cellulite and little pimply flecks. And the only consolation is that the worst part —the middle — is (barely) covered with… Jesus, what is that? A diaper?
“And then this immense tuchis — you remember? — to which is attached Jabba the Hutt, flings itself forward into a similar mutant. Here’s where you notice that they both have these short pudgy arms, and they start to grope at each other, like manatees in heat…
“And then — whew! — ESPN’s five seconds of sumo is up. It ends abruptly, probably because it’s unfit for family viewing. God, what if they ripped off each other’s diapers?…” (Introduction)

“… When you’re a sumo wrestler, you get to live in a clubhouse where no girls are allowed. You’re encouraged to eat all you want and have ‘thirds’ on dessert. You nap all afternoon, and drink beer all night. When you play, you get to take off all your clothes and roll in the dirt. And a whole match hardly ever takes more than 10 seconds; so you’re never late for dinner. You never have games in the rain, the snow, or the hot sun. You never have to think about what’s good for the “team,” and as long as you keep getting bigger and fatter, you don’t even have to pay attention to the coach.
“Sumo is the only sport in the world that allows you to be a superstar and a snackhound at the same time — which, of course, creates a magical affinity between the jock on the TV screen and the slob sitting in front of it…” (Introduction)

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AT THE SUMO MATCHES: “…Listen to the constant buzz, the bursts of ladies’ laughter and the bark of masculine grunting (Japanese men speak in the manliest male argot this side of Texas), and you might — if you shut your eyes — imagine that you’ve come upon an enormous combined Tupperware Party and Lions Club convention…” (Ch. 1)

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“… Without all the strutting and dawdling, glowering and posing, the extraordinary drama of sumo would boil down to fat men with dirty feet trying to push each other’s noses into their brains. No other sport so effectively, so seductively — in the midst of its own delivery — glorifies itself. No other sport has sumo’s melodramatic contrast of stasis and explosion. Baseball, another game of waiting, staring and posing, comes closest, perhaps, but never — like sumo — guarantees, even once, a desperate, decisive climax more than 30 times every day…” (Ch. 1)

“…The joy of sumo is that, once you have the connection, you’re looking at men in jockstraps — much easier to tell apart than whole teams of guys with helmets, numbers, identical uniforms, and Kevlar elbow pads. Each sumo combatant gets a solo shot, every day, to simulate the savagery of the fullback, the grace of the halfback, or the surgical violence of the free safety. This literally naked spotlight helps the fan to learn each wrestler’s body, his oddities, tendencies, coach, name —all that useless stuff — surprisingly fast…” (Ch. 1)


SUMO Book Cover

RUTLAND, Vermont — Here are relevant backgrounds facts about SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport, and its author, David Benjamin.

THE BOOK: SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport was released in early 2010.

SUMO is an updated and substantially revised edition of the 1991 Tuttle book, The Joy of Sumo: A Fan’s Notes, by David Benjamin.

The original book is the most popular book (in terms of sales) ever written in English (and possibly also in Japanese) on the topic of sumo.

The original book has been continuously in print since 1991.

SUMO: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Japan’s National Sport was, on its publication, the first new title on the subject of sumo in some 15 years. Hence, it was the first sumo book to address such developments as the wave of foreign wrestlers now dominating sumo’s upper ranks.

The illustrations in SUMO, by Canadian artist Greg Holfeld, originally appeared in The Joy of Sumo. Holfeld was the regular illustrator for Benjamin’s Tokyo Journal column, “G’s & J’s.” Holfeld is now principal in Panic Productions, an independent illustration and cartoon house in Felixstow, South Australia.

THE AUTHOR: David Benjamin, originally from Tomah, Wisconsin, attended high school in Madison, Wisconsin, attended Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois and graduated in 1973 from Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin.

Besides SUMO, Benjamin is the author of The Life and Times of the Last Kid Picked (Random House, 2002), Three’s a Crowd (Event Horizon Press, 2013) and A Sunday Kind Of Love (Event Horizon Press, 2014).

In 1986, Benjamin was ghostwriter and project director, at Arthur D. Little, Inc. (Cambridge, Massachusetts) for a book entitled Breakthroughs (Rawson Associates, 1986). The book, ranging across four continents and a dozen countries, chronicled — in dramatic narratives — 15 significant inventions of recent vintage. Breakthroughs, praised for style and substance by, among others, The Wall Street Journal, sold more than 125,000 copies in six languages. Benjamin received Arthur D. Little, Inc.’s Presidential Award.

David Benjamin’s journalistic credentials are substantial. He served two stints with the weekly, the Mansfield (Mass.) News, including seven years as editor-in-chief, during which time he won nine awards from the New England Press Association. In the United States, he has published commentary in a range of newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Capital Times and Wisconsin State Journal of Madison, Wisconsin, the Chicago Tribune, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, both the Chronicle and the old Examiner in San Francisco, and the Orange County Register.

He has covered technology and written commentary for the high-tech journal, EE Times. He has also worked in publishing, as president in 1975-77 of P.S. Communications, in Beloit, Wisconsin, where he was editor and publisher of Heavy Truck Transportation and Auto & Flat Glass Journal, art director of The Congregationalist, and production manager for a number of periodicals including The Metric News and a series of TSR (“Dungeons & Dragons”) game manuals.

BENJAMIN IN JAPAN (1987-93): Benjamin’s first editorial role in Tokyo was as editor-in-chief of Tokyo Journal, the English-language city magazine, a position he held for a year.

He was also contributing editor and columnist for the Japan Times weekly magazine, and later moved his column to the Mainichi Daily News, where he presided once-weekly on page 2 for four years.

His writing also appeared in a host of Tokyo periodicals, both English and Japanese, including The Magazine, Winds (Japan Airlines in-flight), Wingspan (ANA in-flight), Number (Japan’s leading sports magazine), Value, Uwasa no Shinso, Da Capo and, of course, Shukan Bunshun, in which, for a year, he served as the Japanese media’s only foreign sumo commentator.

The Joy of Sumo began as a Tokyo Journal feature. Benjamin expanded his research and scope to transform that beginning into a book, and thus claimed a tenuous hold on the heavily-disputed gaijin sumo franchise in Tokyo. He has since then, gladly, jettisoned that distinction.

Three’s a Crowd is currently available at

And Also CreateSpace. It‘s on sale at Mystery To Me and the University Book Store in Madison, Boswell Books and Mystery One in Milwaukee, Books & Company in Oconomowoc, and other quality booksellers.

For more information on, or for contact with the author, please call or write:

David Benjamin
(608) 467-2806