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Interview with Enkhbat Batmunkh (former Makushita Kyokutenzan), July 2008

by Od Howell and Martina Lunau

 

Enkhbat Batmunkh was among the first six mongolian to come to Japan in 1992. Oshima Oyakata considered him to be the most promising one. But contrary to Kyokutenho and Kyokushuzan he wasn't able to gain enough weight. In addition he was injured in the decisive years. A change of shikona from Kyokuranzan to Kyokutenzan didn't help. He never could rise from makushita to juryo but he developped to a kind of mentor and foster father for the mongolian who came to Japan afterwards, among them Asashoryu, Ama, Hakuho ...

Futagoyama Oyakata, the father of Takanohana and Wakanohana, once said that if Kyokutenzan would have escaped, like all the others, to the mongolian embassy and hadn't convinced Kyokutenho and Kyokushuzan to come back, there wouldn't have been the track record of mongolian rikishi.

Kyokutenzan had his Danpatsu in Dezember 2007 and he lives in Berlin with his wife and kid.

 

Tenzan, how do you do after your danpatsushiki, your marriage and your moving to germany? 

Iƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢m doing very well, Everything is new and unknown for me, I get to know a completely new life. For example I have a kid right now and I enjoy every day with it. And because everything is new, everything is interesting. Now I am a normal human being not a rikishi anymore. In the past I attracted attention everywhere, today I can walk along more free, nobody recognizes me and thatƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s very enjoyable. I can wear normal clothes, my former working clothes, the Kimono, was a bit stressful sometimes. All the time I had a mage I was dreaming to wear a basecap one day, when my hair is cut. I can go to the swimming bath, in the past I wasnƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t allowed to do it because of the bintsuke in my hair. I now can decide on my own how to spend my day, there are no more guidelines for me, no pressure and no tension before a basho. I now can relax and whole life is without pressure.  And I lived together with boys in the heya and now I have a wife. 

Can you tell us about your beginnings in Japan? What made you decide to become a sumowrestler and move to Japan? What were your first impressions of the country, how fast could you accustom yourself to new surroundings. Were there things you couldnƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t get used to? 

In the beginning of the 90ies Mongolia was in a change after the collapse of the socialism, life was hard. The separation from Russia was followed  by a breakdown of adequate supply of food, it was even difficult to get basic food. The government distributed food ration cards and people were starving. I was 18, just finished school and I saw a call in television. They looked for young men between 16 and 18 years old, about 1,75m and 75 kg for going to Japan and doing sumo. I had no idea about sumo but I wanted to go to Japan. I thought there will be one person less at home asking for food and I wanted to relieve my parents. There were 160 rivals and I was one of the best six in Mongolian wrestling and were chosen by my later oyakata Oshima to go to Japan with him. 

At one blow my whole life changed. Everything suddenly was different. Japan was a capitalistic state, there was left-hand-driving, we didnƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t understand Japanese at all, it was horribly warm and humid. All rules of behaviour and living in strong hierarchy were unfamiliar for us. I was used to doing freestyle wrestling and normally weighing 82 kg I always had to starve myself until a weight of 74 kg to be allowed to fight. Suddenly everybody told us to eat, eat and eat as much as we could to build up our bodies. Even with raw fish. But 16 years were plenty of time to get used to everything.

 

Please tell us how is daily life in the heya. What are the duties of the members? How is it living together in cramped confines? 

Itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s different from heya to heya. We started traing at 5 in the morning and we were finished at 11. Then we went to take a shower, the  higher ranked rikishi first. After doing the hairdressing we had chanko. The lower ranks go to the hairdresser without having a shower, because they have to serve the high ranked rikishi. They have their shower and can have their meal when everybody else is finished. Then they have to make the clean up and make the dishes. After that there is time for a nap until 4 oƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢clock. After getting up, the whole heya has to be cleaned, time for shopping, do the laundry, preparing the dinner at 6 oƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢clock and when there is still time, there should also be some weight training. The older divide the work between the young wrestlers. They decide individually ƒ¢â€š¬â‚“ a Kyokushuho has to work less and has more time for weight training than other, not so promising rikishi. After dinner there is some free time, everybody can go for his hobbies, playing games, watching videos etc. A Sekitori doesnƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t have any duties in housekeeping.  Most of them have their own home and leave the heya after lunch.  

Living together in a heya was something I needed getting used to. No privacy, whatever you do there is someone who watches you. Itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s loud, everybody has his own television and everybody is watching a different channel. And there is the exploitation of the older rikishi: go to the supermarket, take this to the post office, go and fetch me some beer from the fridge ƒ¢â€š¬‚¦ In the night some of them come home, drunken, and you may be trampled under food. But after a few years they disappeared and you rised in rank. 

There is a strong hierarchy in sumo world, would be impossible for me to get used to it ;-). How did you feel about it, your friends and heyamates? 

There is also strong hierarchy in Mongolia, but itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s combined with age there. In the heya there were 16 years old rikishi who outranked us because they joined the heya when they were 15 years old and because they were already used to the life for one year and understood how everything works. We had to take up a subordinate role and had to follow their commands and  talk to them in a polite way. We had difficulties in the beginning with our bad Japanese cause we couldnƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t differ between the forms of addressing somebody. Sometimes we talked to sekitori like we did with coequal guys and were scolded by the traditional japanese who thump manners.

Young men who join sumo normally have a feeling of self-worth. Living in a heya they recognize that they are a nobody. But itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s a good school, they learn to work, they learn to behave correctly, they learn that they have to struggle to be successful. Otherwise you will be given a beating or you get the chop. Tenho, Shu and I had to live with this, there was no chance to run at home. The training was hard, barefoot on sand and mud, a sort of ƒ¢â€š¬…€œunderpantƒ¢â€š¬‚ that was scrubbing in a way it made you bleed sometimes and you had to tape it and go on with the training. 

What do you do between the basho. Is there some holiday for everyone, what are you allowed to do? 

This is also varying from heya to heya. After the basho there is a week without training. But if we had a bad result it was also possible that we only had 4 or 5 days free time. Of course everybody wants a bit more time on his own, we all train 7 days a week even during basho times.

It depends on your ranking what you can do in your free time. When you are not a sekitori you canƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t say ƒ¢â€š¬…€œI have holidays , I will go there or there ƒ¢â€š¬‚¦ƒ¢â€š¬‚. Often there are some charity events organized by some sponsors, so you will visit a Kindergarten and wrestle with the kids or you visit an old peopleƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s home, always on the road for some public relation.

Once a year we make a journey all together. The Okamisan keeps some money from the salary of every rikishi for the holiday and she decides where to go.

We also wanted to fly to Mongolia once in a year to see our parents and family. We asked the oyakata and he always was very generous . There are also Mongolians who arenƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t allowed to go home for years. All decisions are made by the oyakata who has to report to the kyokai, a strong hierarchy here too.

Between Bashotimes there are the jungyo, after Harubashi there is Harujungyo, Natsujungyo, Akijungyo, Fuyujungyo which last 3, 4 days or even a month.

We are en route all the time and we hardly have time for ourselves which means also nearly no time for rehabilitation after injuries.

 

How much money do the non sekitori get? What is paid by the heya, what do you have to pay by yourselves?

Rooms and meals are free. Everything else we have to pay. The payment depends on the ranking. There is no monthly salary, itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s rather a start bonus payed  after the basho. In Jonokuchi its around 50.000-60.000 Yen (ca. 350,- ƒ¢â‚š‚¬). When you gain a kachikoshi there is an extra bonus of 1.000 or 2.000 yen.

When you are in makushita you will get 150.000 Yen. Itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s not so much money to make your living. Handy fees, games, clothes, cinema, cosmetics, laundry, sometimes you would like to eat something else than the heya food. Also stamps to send the banzuke to your friends, family and fans or a new Yukata and, and, and  You pay 7.000 yen to the hairdresser for the binzuke, when you are in makushita, the hairdresser himself gets his payment from the sumo kyokai.

Not enough money to make ends meet. You have to be clever and attract sponsors. These are private persons who support the heya. During basho times every evening there is a dinner in the heya, around 20 or 30 people come there. You have to talk to them, entertain them, top up the glasses. You donƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t necessarily need to be a good fighter, when you are a nice guy they may support you and give you some yen, telling you, ƒ¢â€š¬…€œBuy something you like, much luck for your next bout ƒ¢â€š¬‚¦ Or they take you out to dinner or give a yukata to you. Sometimes you will get 1000 yen for a coffee, sometimes 10.000 or 50.000.  

How ist the financing system of a heya, is there enough money from the kyokai, what ist he role of the supporters?

The money from the kyokai is enough to pay for the building, the food and the journeys. But more important are the supporters of the heya. Are there prosperous and many supporters the heya and rikishi are doing well. After basho there is the senshurakuparty and the supporters are invited. All buy tickets for it which are well calculated, enough for the party and even a little more. There is not only money from the supporters but also other donations: rice, beer or maybe when one of your sponsors works in a company for shavers you get a box of it.

 

What about the sumo world in the moment, do you follow the basho, are their rikishi you think are promising and can rise up the banzuke to the top?

Of course, More than ever before. In the past I was between them but nowadays I can watch it from outside. It is interesting to see things from both sides.For example all the scandals, which are boiled up by the press and how outsiders feel about it unavoidable. I still know all of them  and I know how some Oyakata think about it or handle the situation, whether itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s a serious problem or nothing but hot air. Iƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢m still having good contacts to all of them. I specially watch Kyokushuho.I have big hopes for him, he has an ideal disposition, he is agile, what is important and he is clever, you canƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t win without using your head. 

You are married now and you both have some ideas how to integrate sumo in your life. Is it possible to tell us about it without giving away too much ƒ¢â€š¬â‚“ how are your plans/projects for the future?

I was a rikishi for 16 years of my life, you canƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t stop with it from one day to the other. 

Iƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢m interested in amasumo here in Germany. There are some active people, but there is not much national support, most things are done  by oneƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s own initiative. That has to be changed. German wrestler were quite successful in the past but now there are problems to get new trainees. Other European countries like Russia or Ukraine are very strong and passed the germans. I could be a good trainer for example, but you have to build up a real dohyo, cause training on mats is means a high injury risk. I have a feeling that the situation of sumo will only be better when it will become olympic. Perhaps one should work for this first,

In Germany there is a lot to do. People have heard of sumo, but they donƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t know much about it. So we think about establish an association to make Sumo more popular in Germany and Europe. It would be great to invite a heya for a visit and make an event where people can learn about sumo. What kind of sport is this , what is the meaning of the rituals , how do the rikishi live, what do they eat, how is their hair dressed  ƒ¢â€š¬‚¦. A picture exhibition and more things like this. 

A german jungyo would be great too. Also I think itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s unbearable that you donƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢t have a channel which shows sumo in tv. Perhaps one could talk about this with the kyokai. The association could also act as a middleman between Kyokai and other institutions and interest groups. Itƒ¢â€š¬â€ž¢s quite difficult for outsiders to get a real contact to the kyokai. 

What are the plans for your future life?

I want to bring up my child, a happy and calm family life, travel and see the world, cause there wasn't much time for this until now. And play lots of golf!