John moved to Japan and at age 30 decided to become a sumo wrestler, why not!? Three World Championship appearances later, John has hung up his maswashi and is now the authority on sumo wrestling in Japan today. He's brings with him his overflowing box of stories about life as Ireland's first sumo wrestler
John moved to Japan and at age 30 decided to become a sumo wrestler, why not!? Three World Championship appearances later, John has hung up his maswashi and is now the authority on sumo wrestling in Japan today. He's brings with him his overflowing box of stories about life as Ireland's first sumo wrestler
Episode 4 The Irish Sumo Wrestler
Tue, 3/2 11:58AM • 42:19
japan, japanese, people, sumo, sport, japanese culture, sumo wrestler, tournament, tokyo, bit, training, months, country, john, ireland, world, similar, moved, irish, life
Nestled in the Irish province of conduct sits the county of Roscommon, whose motto is steadfast Irish heart. In 2000, Roscommon native john gunning left Ireland and like many began by teaching English. Just a few years later, john had left the classroom and thrown his steadfast Irish heart into the sumo ring. Soon representing Ireland, three World Championships. Now, john is seen by many as the leading authority on tumour in Japan, a regular TV commentator on Japanese TV, a regular columnist for The Japan Times and the founder of inside sport, Japan. JOHN, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us.
Know My pleasure, guys, thank you very much for having me on this broadcast of this podcast, I should say, I don't know if I can live up to your first two guests, but I give it a go.
It's nice to have a kindred spirit if you will, the kind of the the same pie in this relationship, aren't you? You're the guy that's been spent 20 years in Japan right at the heart of the Japanese Sumo world. So we're looking forward to learning a lot from you today. I'm the one that probably looks the oldest anyway, and I'm already learning because I have to admit I'd never heard the the motto of Roscommon before so
it's very common knowledge over here in East London
hadn't reached Japan is Yeah.
How's life treating you john? How's it How is locked down and the whole COVID experience been been Japan side? Yeah, it's been strange obviously, when you work in sports and with most sports cancelled since March or April, it's a lot quieter than normal on a personal level. It's it's been good.
I'm spending a lot of time at home I think I told somebody today I took one train in the last five months whereas my previous record in Japan without going on a train was two days. So yeah, just been hunker down spending time at home. Luckily enough a lot of the work I can do or that I normally do I can do from home. So that's been good. That's been good. But yeah, obviously. It's it's a serious situation and tough for everyone. So hopefully it won't go on too long.
And is it did that not to bash or the summer Sumo tournament? Go ahead. No, the nuts of Russia was cancelled the main one. What they did was they moved to Gillette. So the similar tournament's basically are every two months on the odd numbered months. So they go basically in turns from Tokyo to one of the three main regional centres that Osaka and Nagoya and Fukuoka so the Nagoya tournament, because they didn't want everyone travelling around the country that went ahead as usual in July, but they just held it in Tokyo rather than moving down to Nagoya. So for all the sumo people, especially the veteran wrestlers, they were saying it was the first time in 20 years that actually went in Tokyo in July. So it's it's a strange experience for a lot of people.
The march tournament they held without any spectators. The major tournament, as I said was cancelled. And this past tournament, they allowed in 2500 people per day, roughly, there's roughly about 11,000 people able to fit into the arena. So yeah, a much reduced audience for sure.
Let's talk about your journey to Japan in the first place. Did you travel from Ireland to Japan to become a sumo wrestler?
No, I think that's similar. Actually. When I came to Japan first, I
lived and travelled around the world done a whole host of different jobs, everything from working with the Italian Army to being a counsellor for kids are rare disabilities in the US. And yeah, I had been the kind of person who changed where I was living and change jobs that I was doing every 18 months or two years, for probably about the previous 10 years before I came to Japan. And just a friend was coming here. I'd met some Japanese people who are studying in Ireland and I thought I want to go and see them go with my friends see a little bit of the country. And within days of arriving here, I didn't want to leave. Within days of moving back. I told my boss at the time I quit. I was quitting started job hunting in Japan sold everything I had and within eight months, I think I was back living here in Osaka. I'm gonna say Can you can you remember what it was about? Japan that kind of instantly captured you. Ah, a lot of things. I think even now after a couple of decades in the country. You still get new stuff all the time. I'm very much a kind of person who loves new experiences meeting new people getting out there I get I was I get bored easily but I like lots of stimulation. and Japan provides that in spades and, you know, that assault on the senses that people talk about when they first came come to Japan on a holiday. For me that was
cabinet. You know, it was just fantastic. I loved it, I loved all the the weirdness and strangeness of the everything, everything was similar and his time at one point it was similar but it was also different in a different way. And, you know, you both know that and just I loved the excitement of is in the newness of it. Because like I said, I lived in Italy, I lived in the US, I travelled to a lot of countries, but most of my life had been spending while we could basically call it Western countries, so no matter how different they are, they all share basic sameness or underlying, you know,
philosophy or religion or whatever. So coming. I was east and especially to Japan, it was just different worlds different planets. So when you went out there, do you have any experience of Japan at all? Or were you completely fresh out the box, no language, no cultural knowledge. I think I knew four words of Japanese before I came here was the Konichiwa
cidara and email campaign. They were the only
people why evoke envy. Because one of the Japanese people I met had that cineq
tell you this much. Like with those four words, there's not a lot you can do. You know, you're very good opportunity to use him. Okay, in casual conversation.
You know, hello, goodbye, thank you and sweet potato snacks, you know, it's useful every now and then it's an 11. But otherwise, it's
it's hard. I mean, you can you can work it a little bit, but intonation, but you know,
it is limited.
And that was that was pretty much it. You know, I didn't seen some TV shows and stuff like that. But I wasn't Japanophile. I hadn't done any particular attraction to the country before I came here, but changed within seconds of getting off the plane. Basically, you know, that first, fast, clean train, no hot coffee from a vending machine. And the cabinet was just like, Look, what the heck yeah. I remember my first hot coffee from your home, like, you know, and I think as you say, you know, so comfortable but so different at the same time and as you say, in a complete assault on the senses. And what about sport as a younger man, what would you like what sort of, you know, sporting background Do you have I'm a soccer player all the way through from young age. I was like a lot of people I was I was a winger and I started gradually moving back towards the box. As I got older and slower. I was slim and I was young and fast. And I came here played soccer all my life paid for soccer team and Osaka for a few years and I moved up to Tokyo played for team up here as well. And yeah, Raceway race all the way up until I give it up at age 30 and turn to SEMA. That's quite a transition. And I wrote down, you know, a few questions and I've written John's journey, you know, footballer to the Kishi sumo wrestler. Yeah. 60 kilogrammes to 120 kilogrammes. Yeah. So I'm a 60 kilogramme skinny distance runner, and I'm getting a bit injured and I can see the end of the road coming sumana
Well, this is the question is like, what at that point makes you think, Okay, I'm going to double my body weight and start smashing into 150 kilogrammes of solid flesh. Well, to be fair, I didn't have the plan of doubling the body wage. Initially, it was just more like I got sick of chasing around hot Japanese gravel fields in inverted commas after 19 year olds and 40 degrees. Just couldn't run the as I said, I got slower, got tired of chasing shadows, got a knee injury, the soccer I knew like, because I played those in okay level. I could see like I was just getting worse and slower and kind of enjoyment was going out. I just was looking around, I had a layoff because I got my knee injury. And when I came back, the thoughts of going back to playing soccer again, just didn't appeal to me. And I was looking around for something else to do. And I've been a fan of Sumo. When I came here, obviously, it was one of the only things I could understand on the television. Just that kind of thing that I said earlier of always looking for new experiences always looking for something different. I thought, you know, I give it a goal. How hard can it be? You know, and I learned how hard it can be.
I'll tell you that much over the next few years. That question was answered in in spades for sure. Yeah, I went into us with no kind of wrestling or martial arts or rugby or anything background. I was destroyed, knocked from pillar to post for the first four months couldn't even beat junior high school kid. So what's what's it sort of daily training session like for, you know, an amateur sumo wrestler? Is it pretty hardcore? Or is it you know, a bit like an amateur soccer match? Obviously, if you're an amateur, you have to have a job as well. So you're working Monday to Friday like most people
would be and then it's weekends and probably evenings to if your club is really serious around about it. So you're looking at four or five hours of training a day, but it's, it's very structured, you know, it's pretty much wherever you go. And similar to professional amateur ranks, it's it's the same sort of layout and same pattern. It's very intense. I used to tell people, you know, before, when I would wake up on a Saturday or Sunday, I was going to training, I would have this knot of fear in my stomach, even eight 910 years after starting it, because the intensity of similar training is not just about how much you can push yourself, it's how much other people can push you because you don't have, you don't have control of when you can stop fights or when you can stop the pushing practice in particular. So you get pushed beyond your limits by other people. And you can't just say, Okay, that's it. That's enough for me today. It's a very traditional sport and very hierarchical, and you know, you never know when the coach is going to decide to like really give it to you that day. And just you know, I had training sessions where I literally told my heart was about to explode in my chest and I couldn't see anything I just had that tunnel vision, where it's all red around the outside and you just, you're lying on the ground, your legs are jelly, your arms are jelly and you're getting solid rubbed in your face and you get just getting like pull it up by your hair. And you know, when you finish the day of Sumo training you walk home I it's a it's a thing I've said many times it's like getting someone shot at you and missed the flowers. Smells sweeter, the air is fresher, the sky is bluer and you're still alive, survived another session, you spoke about tradition. And you spoke about hierarchy for those of our listeners who are not that familiar with Sumo, which is probably I would have thought Can you just give us a brief bit of history perspective about the origins of Sumo and probably the the cultural side of Sumo where it fits in Japanese society? Well, sumos, basically about 2000 years old. So it's not it's not it predates what we know as martial arts, it was a ceremony originally, you can see a lot of the trappings of the Shinto religion still in the sport, it went through many different phases and versions over the millennia. So it was almost progressing like entertainment at one stage in the Edo era. It was street fighting almost at another time and more of the basically into more or less what it is now, in the mid 1700s. It hasn't really changed much in the last but well say like 250 years. And maybe it combines elements of sport, religion, culture, entertainment. And the biggest difference between civil and probably every other sporting activity is that it's a lifestyle. It's not, you're not joining a team or you don't, you're not a Nazi, you're more akin to somebody joining a monastery or being in the military, it's 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they have the top notch, they have the traditional clothing, lifestyle, everything is controlled by the stable master. So you give up everything and you become an apprentice, when you join Sumo. It's very tied into Japanese sense of self maybe, you know, in a way that was a Gaelic games would be in Ireland, or maybe a cricket would be in England, it's the national sport, but it's a little bit more than that the way it's the way it's conducted reflects a lot of the, the culture of the country because this is such a brutal sport. There's a really gentle aesthetic running through a lot of the rituals and again, that whole sense of you know, under studies, you know, you know, observing that their elders and all that that that respect, you speak a little bit of how those relationships work within maybe a professional Sumo stable. I mean, Sumo is no different in than Japan itself. In that respect. You know, that dichotomy or the land of contrasts there's a lot of people call us where these two separate things somehow coexist. So Sumo being this ultra violent, brutal feudalistic society with these fantastic beautiful trappings and ceremonies attached to it. It's just one of those traditional typically Japanese things, but it is a feudal like I said, the modern version of cinema basically came into being around the mid 1700s. And because it hasn't changed all that much since then, it's a especially over the last 20 years, it's an increasingly difficult fit in the modern world, especially he will say, since the tournament, the Millennium
it things have changed. You know, we can see it around the world. You know, what was acceptable, even 10 years ago, isn't now so you know, what was acceptable in the 1790s is even less so. So, the one thing I'd like to know is how, how people that aren't Japanese fit into that very Japanese culture of sumo wrestling, because I know recently there's been a spate of non Japanese Yokozuna.
And champions have a foreign is treated within a sumo stable. There are no concessions made whatsoever. You don't it's not like baseball. It's not like soccer where you will get a translator you will get perhaps food from your own country special treatment. Any any other athlete who comes to Japan
pretty much regardless of what sport they're in some accommodation will be made to ease their transition or at least help them with the language, and the culture and maybe the legalities of everything. But in Sumo, it's not like that once you join Sumo, everything from day one is 100% in Japanese, and it's sink or swim. And Sumo doesn't make any concessions for foreign athletes. There are some rules about how many can be allowed in each table. But in terms of how they're treated rekishi parikshit wrestlers a wrestler, so if you're a sumo wrestler, you get treated exactly the same no matter where you're from. If I was to say, right, I want to become, I'm probably a bit too old for it now. But if I wanted to become a professional sumo wrestler, could I knock on this table door and say, I'd like to dedicate my life to this to this table? Would that be accepted? Well, if you're under 22, and you're Japanese, you wouldn't even just give a reason you just knock on the door and ask to come in and you'd be accepted more or less, you know, if you're foreign, it's obviously much more difficult because there are limits. One per stable on those about, I think was 47 stables now, currently, so there are very few places that open up for foreign wrestlers. When they do there tends to be a lot of competition for them. And obviously, if they can only bring in one person from another country, they want to bring in someone who is very strong. So generally speaking, nowadays, if you were coming from abroad, and you didn't have Japanese nationality, you'd want to have a track level track record of success. At an amateur level at the World Championships, for example, you'd need several podium finishes, probably and you'd also want to be probably no older than 18 or 19. It's something I've mentioned in a few different columns and interviews, the strangeness of that point that, you know, you can't walk up to Old Trafford knock on the door and say, I'd like to give it a go and see, can I make the first team you know, but in Sumo, essentially, you can, you know, as if you're willing to give it a go, they'll, you know, they'll give you a Washington see how far you can get? What was that? I mean, you had a fair few challenges along the way, I'm sure with injuries and what are the greatest challenges for you? You know, how was that that process? You know, for even that, maybe Can you remember the first day of training? Yeah, I can't forget is
tried hard to burn it from the memory.
No, it's still there. The shame, the humiliation? Yeah, I remember the first day obviously, it was ridiculous. absolutely ridiculous. I came out and put on the mawashi. And I got put up against a guy who I thought was a university student. But it turned out what had just turned 13. I wrote a short story for a local free paper, I think, that month, and I put the line that the ceiling went around twice before I hit the floor. So he just got beaten every single way you can imagine. And it was like that against all of the kids who are 13 1415 for the first four months, because I had no idea what I was doing. The big guys would just literally drive me off the train onto the ring like I was being hit by a train smaller guys. It'd be like one of those cartoons where the big bully is wrapping his arms around and he's there's fresh air and suddenly the you know, the ghost is behind him. And so it was embarrassing, absolutely embarrassed. And I thought I'd do well as it you know, because I was very, I'm a soccer player. But you know, I spent lots of time in the gym and I have a strong as older and more experienced, I thought but no first four months, I don't think I'm on a single boat. And yeah, it was like that. That's the hardest thing for me was the technique. So the three main points of similar, you know, hard technique and physique. Those three things are the essential The heart is the main thing. So, you know, I had that kind of crazy Irish thing where I wasn't going to give up no matter what. So I was fine in that respect. Body wise. Yeah, not great, but I worked on it. But the technique killed me. I just had no experience or background in any kind of grappling. And I was starting, like I said, at the age of 30. So by the time I got reasonably good at it, it was close enough to retirement age, you know, I mean, I can I can speak of what it is to get beaten by 13 year olds now with my running. You got up every day, went back and at it for four hours at a time. I mean, you had some pretty horrendous injuries as well. I imagine along the way. Yeah, I had no sense whatsoever. No sense so fractured teeth broke fractured skull. I never broke a bone in my life.
My humerus top to bottom could move my arm for the nerves was shattered to four months before I could actually even lag on my fingers 18 months for the bones to fuse back together numerous sprains and tear cymbals ridiculously violence. So it's the nature of the sport is you're going to be injured all the time, because I was starting as an age where a lot of people retire. And you know, when you're getting a bit harder, and you don't have that bounce or flexibility in the body, so the hits tend to hurt a lot more and take longer to recover from but at the same time, I loved it, you know, it's that thing of just pushing yourself beyond everything that you think is physically possible. And the height of that essentially, you know, well, once the pain wears off then the height of that, you know, and you used to training with with your arm and the cost, am I right? I came in That's right. Yeah, I came in, um, I was in a plaster Paris cast shoulder to wrist and it was tied to my body, the sling that went around the shoulder because I couldn't move it and coach up to me and said, Do you want to train and I said, You know, I when I when I broke my arm, because I the arms snapped, the position I was in was no longer holding me up. So I crashed headfirst into the ground. And I hit my head so hard on the ground that I lost sight and hearing intermittently for the next few hours. So even my head was black and blue and covered in bandages. And I was looking at the coaches like what are you talking about? Like, I can't the bones are still haven't even been put back together. You know, there's three long shards free floating underneath this cast, you know, my arm, my hand was a purple ball. All the fingers were kind of fused together because all the blood from the injury had gone down into my hand. And so I looked at I looked like dorema you know,
with that circular face, you know? And
yeah, Coach literally just said, Nothing wrong with your legs is there go do some squats. And that is the attitude. I've seen people knocked out in training and just drive by the heels and pull to the side of the ring and left to come to. I've seen people tear this part of the finger between the thumb and the forefinger, tape it up, keep training, go to the hospital after training, small breaks, tears, anything like that. It's broken noses, anything minor like that, you wouldn't actually stop training for it. You only get looked after once training is finished. But that's kind of ridiculously macho mindset. And once you get into it, you know, you're kind of, yeah.
That's me. I'm the hero, you know. So it's, it's hard to it's very seductive. I will admit that mindset is very seductive. When you're in it. It's It's insane from the outside. And once you're removed from it, you can see that it's not that good rating. So you spend 10 years being beaten black and blue, but still cracking on and then you have your mawashi up. Is that a hard choice to make? Or have you reached a point of too many broken bones too few teeth lifts? This is time to time to finish? No, there were no regrets I, my only regrets were that I didn't do well in big competitions, like the world championships. And before the 2012 worlds in Hong Kong, I didn't really train for six, eight months before that tournament. I knew it was going to be my last tournament. I was busy with work and other stuff. So I wasn't I knew I was I was already pushing 14 on you awesome. Probably going to do that. Well, I decided to enter the open race, which would be against the biggest guys who would be turning pro? Because
Yeah, it's the same mentality that I was talking about earlier. You know, it's like, Yeah, why not? I'm going to give it a go. So I wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, you know, found the biggest man in the room and took him out first. There's the blaze of glory I wanted to get I wanted to be sent out of the ring literally and figuratively, you know, sent flying out of the rain on my end. So I went did that. So I knew really, I didn't have a chance of meddling in the last tournament because I was in that division with the biggest and the baddest, you know, the 200 kilogramme guys, so I decided there was no point in training, so I didn't train and then the first fight I lost in the first round in the open ways. Once I lost that there was a rep. And then there was a team competition. But after the first loss, the image right there on the oil the desire was gone was a was a strange thing was that I lost it was like right, that's it. I'd be happy now but I had two more fights I had to do but I didn't really want to do them. I did them obviously because I had to but the heart was no longer yours. I knew it had been the right decision to retire. Still now, you know eight years removed from it. Obviously I think I could get back in and I could come back when I'm 50 or
give it another goal or if I had
idea that if suitable had been an Olympic sport, it was definitely coming back out of retirement because I'd be on the Irish team no matter what, you know, and that was going to be carrying the Irish flag into the stadium is going to be a even if, if that ever does come true. I'm coming out of retirement if I can still walk, I'll be a 67 year old Olympic debutante, you know, we look forward to being in the stadium to for that very moment.
I reckon I'll probably I'll try and take you up on that if they let you do an all Ireland team
seven times. So that was talking about kind of your life as a sumo wrestler. We now want to talk a little bit about what's happened. Now you've retired and left the ring to your writer for Japan Times and you do Is it a monthly column that turns weekly when tournaments are on? No, it's a weekly column insights most of that column that's a week they call them during tournaments, generally, it becomes daily or not, that column doesn't become daily. But during tournaments, I generally write a shorter Daily Beast. That's the first one was called Sumo one on one, which, as the name implies, was an introductory series for people. All those articles are still up on on demand Times website, then I did a rikishi files, one, maybe profiling lots of different sumo wrestlers. I think I'll probably that one will probably continue for a while longer. And then after that, we'll see what it is. But yeah, there I do daily bits during tournaments and between tournaments, then it's just a weekly column for time times. Plus, then with NHK, the live broadcasts, I'm usually on the first day for those previous show for each tournament. And I do bits and pieces on other shows, Guest appearances, stuff like that. So more prolific than prints, basically, ever getting paid to give people my opinion, I got to do it as often as I can.
I guess the question is, how do you go from, you know, going to Japan as a pure beginner forward to Japanese one being sweet potato to being the voice of what is, you know, the most Japanese sports? How did you end up there? Sure, cheek, pure brass, essentially, you know, no sense of shame or embarrassment, essentially, I think is key for things like this. I threw myself into it. When I gave up soccer. When I moved to when I moved up to Tokyo. I played soccer for a while, and then I gave it up and I started doing Sumo. And I decided that I was going to do Sumo, and
I was going to property. So I actually moved to the area where all the stables are. And so every single day, essentially, early in the morning, I was in one state or another got to know a lot of the guys who are wrestling, got to train with them when they came to our practices, just basically, you know, open the door and walked into the cinema world and just hung around got to know a lot of people at a background in media, done bits and pieces over the years. Even in Japan, I kind of dabbled a little bit and I wasn't in the industry in a big way. But I kept my hand in it. And then an opportunity arose at the daily Yomiuri as it was, then I think it's known as Japan news. Now, they're calling us was leaving. And I knew him. And he recommended me and I did that for a couple years. And then, as I say, to people, you know, who anyone who wants to break into this industry in particular, it's just do the work. And if your work is good, people will notice it. And if opportunities come up, you'll get offered them. And it was basically that way. NHK had a need for somebody to come on to the live broadcasts, I did that and I didn't embarrass myself on air too much. And then other opportunities arose out of that. And
gradually, I just gave up the other work, and things that I was doing and just moved into the media full time. Finally, about 20 years after graduating with a degree in media and communications, I decided to give that field ago Do you ever get any any backlash from people who, you know, very defensive of Japanese culture? And oh, yeah, trying to sort of push out the the foreigner daily, daily daily, I'm on Reddit and Twitch and all them so I get abused online, I don't get to keep your ego in check. It doesn't really, you know, my ego is fine. If you're going to be thin skinned, this is not the industry for you, you know, if you're going to be a journalist, or especially if you're a columnist, and commentator where you're basically trading in your opinions, then you're gonna have to accept that people will call you an idiot and a lot worse on a daily basis and absolutely, trash your opinions. And, you know, so I don't mind that, you know, I can, I can take all kinds of views most of it comes from abroad to be honest with you.
My own views more or less aligned with the Japanese side.
So I don't say anything really, that would be all that
controversial to Japanese similar funds, but similar has exploded in popularity over the last few years, something like a 600% rise internationally. So you have an awful lot of fans who are new to the sport and also new to Japanese culture. But they really came into it through other parts of Japanese culture that they may have been interested in first, whether that be anime or something else. So there are certain preconceived notions perhaps, or certain things that go on in Sumo are difficult for people to understand. And so but people tend to have very strong opinions online, obviously enough. Anyone wants to call me whatever they want, they're more than welcome. You know, just touch on something that's really interesting to me that what talking about Japanese culture, the way that people perceive Japan to be overseas? What What do you think? I mean, certainly my experiences of racing and training in Japan, as a visually impaired, you know, Paralympian, disabled someone with a disability, what 100% positive, you know, and yet, Japan is quite often seen as a country that doesn't
particularly have a progressive attitude towards people with a disability. You've been there as a, you know, Roscommon, and you know, competing in Sumo, what do you think, the greatest misconception
regarding, you know, Japanese culture and sport and one of the one of the reasons that Mike and I got together and want to do this podcast was to really sort of
bring stories like yours to the forefront and and to sort of delve a little bit deeper into into Japanese food, because, you know, both of us have been in Japan lived in Japan train to Japan, and Japanese for is is incredible, the passion. You know, the community, even even branding and marketing within Japan, is incredibly some of the most exciting sport in the world.
What do you think, is the what are some of the misconceptions, and maybe some of the barriers towards getting Japanese sport out there?
That's a really tough question. I think, I don't know if I could answer that for Japan as a nation as a whole. Because Well, I mean, like everyone else, when I came here, first, I'd like I say, I bang my head on walls for the first five years, just through the various misunderstandings or it just come things come from a different place here. So when they can look the same on the surface, they can be very different underneath all kinds of little things day to day, you know, things that we hear all the time, like maybe means no, if somebody says something is difficult, it essentially means it's impossible. One thing for me is because I grew up in rural Ireland in the 1970s, and 80s, which was essentially monoculture as well, in a in a very real sense, I understand what it's like where every single person in an area has exactly the same experience growing up. And so there is a shared background or backstory to life that doesn't really need to be said or spoken. It's it's innate, everybody knows it, because everyone went through it. We had the same experience in school and the same experience at all levels of education and at home, and you know, what entertainment and culture we consumed. So Japan is like that as well, very much. So there's a lot of stuff that's unsaid or that people know, that is in voice. So when you come here, assumptions and things that maybe we take for granted in western countries don't apply. Or they actually they're different, but because they're not said, because nobody tells you them because nobody thinks to tell you them, you're tripping over yourself all the time. I think really the only thing you can really tell people, oh, if you understand this, you'll be you'll be okay. And you'll understand Japan, it's more of a country where you have to just go there and spend time in it. You have to spend time here and make the mistakes that everyone makes and just learn by immersion. Essentially, even if you studied the Japanese language at university in Germany, or the US or wherever, and you come here with a very high level of Japanese language, you won't thrive immediate. The biggest thing maybe is flexibility, flexibility and coming in with a mindset where things that you may have thought were essential or basic or not so in Japan, so just be prepared to let go of things that you thought you know, the sky isn't necessarily blue. We put it that way. Things like that. Or Well, actually the sky The sun is not yellow. In Japan. There you go. Son is raised in Japan. So if you say the sun is yellow Japanese school kids will look at you like what? No, it's not. It's right. I had the same problem with with green traffic lights, which are blue in Japan. There you go. There you go. Green and Blue are the same thing. Perfectly enigmatic, perfectly any
Japanese answer, you know, I said 10 minutes and said nothing.
So john, we always ask our guests for some recommendations.
They reflect their time in Japan. And the first one is can you give us one Japanese word or phrase that you think is either incredibly useful in Japan or that sums up your experience of Japan word or phrase? Japanese word or phrase? You mean, right? preferably
an Irish one that no one could understand Japanese word or phrase, total
efforts. There you go. I mean, that's, that's the heart of it. Really, you know, that gammon spirit, you know, so it replies to me to have any necessarily talent or aptitude or ability for simile, but I just kept ashes and hammering away and not get knocked down seven times and stand up, ah, as the phrase goes. So it's just like that, that absolute effort, giving it that's the heart of Japanese culture really is giving 110% of the cliched half of his interview that goes to just essentially just not giving up not letting anything, stand in your way and just giving it every single whatever you're doing. Give it 100% and do to the best of your ability and don't stop till you finish it and get it done.
JOHN, you've been in Japan for 20 years. For our listeners, you haven't been to Japan, can you recommend one one place so places had a special to you or that you could recommend for people to visit? It's kind of touristy, I guess one place would be a condo which is a temple in Kyoto new that that's going to meet you the philosopher's path. It's not, it's close to nanzenji. It's not as famous. It's maybe more well known in the autumn for the colours, but it's my favourite temple in Japan, it doesn't tend to be as crowded as the others. And it's got a very unusual Buddha that's looking over his shoulder, the statue of the Buddha looking over his shoulder and sprawling complex, very beautiful, of that Garcia area of Kyoto, or Roppongi Hills, the top of her funky hills in Tokyo. It's large circular office building right in the heart of Tokyo, built on a hill, and has an open air skydeck training and 60 degree view. And it's not the cheapest observation tower in Tokyo, but I think it is the best overall view. And especially, to go there and watch the greatest city in the world, the biggest city in the world change from day to night, is just one of those experiences that will stay with you. It's what I do. Generally speaking, when I bring people like friends come to Japan, I bring them straight from the airport to upon the hills and go to the top of it and get to see a city of 38 million people where you can't see the edges in any direction. And you'll see it turn from daytime to this absolute kaleidoscopic Christmas tree lights in every direction, and just watch their jaws drop and jetlag and culture rush. Amazing. I'm getting goosebumps just just listening to that. Yeah.
So the last one we want Johnny's recommend first one food that you think everyone should eat when they travel to Japan on a unique only Korean store onigiri homemade onigiri rice balls. There's every variety seasonal everything from tuna mayonnaise and 711 to an Aggie elevens in the summer the best Japanese food I don't care what any culinary snob says if you live in under here you for the rest of my life if he had to pick one filling john
now you're putting me on the spot
we're recording this in all this so let's say let's go for all this summer summer then it's gonna be an Aggie right I know it's gonna be July is is more than Aggie but the season one freshwater eel I thought you're going to say chanchal nabbit the symbol
you know defying expectations here that's what I'm doing that's what I'm about
my son's got an obsession with shankle another in fact you need my wife was talking about trying to cook cook the the source that broth over the weekend so you guys know the channel itself is a word just means food. So essentially any food is jangle. So I mean Gary is Janko if you're a sumo wrestler, anything, any last message for
our listeners from your little tidbit of knowledge that you wisdom that you've picked up over the last 20 years? Be open minded?
And listen, be open minded and listen if you can do those two things you'll go far in life. Incredible.
Honestly, john, I've, I've learned so much about you know about your life in the world of cinema in general. This has been a true education in in what I could have achieved in my life.
first trip to Japan
chancer you know just just
make a career arduous, like Leonardo DiCaprio in that one who's the one we pretended to be pilot and everything. Captain he began. Yeah.
Eventually essentially that's the story of my life in Japan you know, it's been Yeah, it's
it's been a lesson today in so many facets of
not only Sumo but Japanese culture john and you've been an amazingly
eloquent poetic dare I say, Ambassador for the sport of Sumo and and for Japanese sport, Japanese culture. And thank you so much for giving up. So much of your time. You're a very very busy man, I hear you don't sleep very much. Yeah, we are is a nice, I think it's because like Napoleon, I'm short, you know, world domination. There's no time for sleep to dominate the world. We just leave it there,
as it would just play the outro music over that.
Thank you for listening to this episode of Japan sports stories. I don't think we can thank Dan enough for giving us such a unique perspective on the world of CMA ever taken us through His fascinating life in Japan. We hope that this will inspire a brand new cohort of amateur sumo wrestlers to take up the mawashi and that john will eventually walk out with in the Irish lags Ireland's first Sumo Olympian. Next time, we'll be talking to his true Paralympic legends. We won't say who just yet, but she'll be telling us about the time she competed in the Tokyo Paralympics in 1964. And how the movement has changed between the two kids. She's a true Trailblazer in sport, and we can't wait to share their story with you. As always, make sure you subscribe to us so that you don't miss an episode. This podcast is built purely on word of mouth. So if you enjoy it, please tell all your friends and family or give us a little retweet on Twitter. You can find us on at j s store.
We would love to share these stories with as many people as possible. Finally, we'd like to say one last thank you to john for giving up his time.