Meet the Japanese heavyweights of Brazilian sumo

Publish Date : 2021-04-03


Meet the Japanese heavyweights of Brazilian sumo

But they aren't training in Japan where the competitive sport originated centuries ago. Instead, they're wrestling in a country known for its love of soccer and samba -- Brazil.

Growing up, Willian Takahiro Higuchi and Wagner Yoshihiro Higuchi (who go by Taka and Yoshi) were not fond of sumo wrestling because of its strenuous physical demands. It was their father, a sumo wrestler before migrating to Brazil, who refused to let them quit.

'Because my father was from Japan, he wanted to maintain the culture,' says Yoshi. 'That's why he would make us speak Japanese at home and follow many other Japanese customs.'



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Their father's family left postwar Japan in 1959. The family was a part of the large influx of Japanese immigrants who eventually settled in Brazil during the mid-1900s.

Today, Brazil is home to some 1.5 million ethnic Japanese, making it the largest population outside of Japan. The Higuchi brothers are among São Paulo's 'Nikkei' group living in the city's Japanese Brazilian district, Liberdade, where countless Japanese-run establishments line the streets. The brothers' family-owned business, Bar Kintaro, is one of them.

When Taka and Yoshi are not working late nights in the bar, they are gearing up for sumo competitions down the road -- regionally and internationally. Over the years, the brothers have trained with professional Japanese sumo wrestlers and instructors, gaining the strength and technical skills most amateurs don't have.

'When you have a way bigger opponent, you win using technique,' says Yoshinori Makiyama, a sumo referee and longtime family friend who used to compete with the Higuchi patriarch. 'There is no way of using only strength.'

São Paulo's local sumo club has grown to comprise Brazilians of all backgrounds. Despite the sport's history of being exclusive to only men, more women are participating, including Taka's girlfriend, Luciana Watanabe.

Being one of the first female amateur wrestlers, Watanabe has gained media attention for her sumo achievements, including magazine features and interviews with the Brazilian television network, Globo.

'I teach kids and I tell them sumo is not only a male sport,' says Watanabe. 'It's also for women.'

As more female athletes gain a foothold in the traditionally male-dominated sport, the Brazilian Confederation of Sumo hosts yearly competitions for both men and women in multiple weight divisions. Just last fall the Higuchi brothers and Watanabe represented Brazil in the Sumo World Championship held in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The trio hopes to qualify again this year.

In the meantime, they're teaching sumo wrestling to young children, laying the foundation for a new generation of Brazilian sumo wrestlers.

Taka recalls the discipline and dedication instilled by his late father.

'Now I teach sumo to continue the legacy.'

'I teach kids and I tell them sumo is not only a male sport,' says Watanabe. 'It's also for women.' 'Now I teach sumo to continue the legacy.' Being one of the first female amateur wrestlers, Watanabe has gained media attention for her sumo achievements, including magazine features and interviews with the Brazilian television network, Globo. 'When you have a way bigger opponent, you win using technique,' says Yoshinori Makiyama, a sumo referee and longtime family friend who used to compete with the Higuchi patriarch. 'There is no way of using only strength.' Growing up, Willian Takahiro Higuchi and Wagner Yoshihiro Higuchi (who go by Taka and Yoshi) were not fond of sumo wrestling because of its strenuous physical demands. It was their father, a sumo wrestler before migrating to Brazil, who refused to let them quit. 'When you have a way bigger opponent, you win using technique,' says Yoshinori Makiyama, a sumo referee and longtime family friend who used to compete with the Higuchi patriarch. 'There is no way of using only strength.' 'Because my father was from Japan, he wanted to maintain the culture,' says Yoshi. 'That's why he would make us speak Japanese at home and follow many other Japanese customs.' Today, Brazil is home to some 1.5 million ethnic Japanese, making it the largest population outside of Japan. The Higuchi brothers are among São Paulo's 'Nikkei' group living in the city's Japanese Brazilian district, Liberdade, where countless Japanese-run establishments line the streets. The brothers' family-owned business, Bar Kintaro, is one of them. 'I teach kids and I tell them sumo is not only a male sport,' says Watanabe. 'It's also for women.' In the meantime, they're teaching sumo wrestling to young children, laying the foundation for a new generation of Brazilian sumo wrestlers. São Paulo's local sumo club has grown to comprise Brazilians of all backgrounds. Despite the sport's history of being exclusive to only men, more women are participating, including Taka's girlfriend, Luciana Watanabe. 'Because my father was from Japan, he wanted to maintain the culture,' says Yoshi. 'That's why he would make us speak Japanese at home and follow many other Japanese customs.' São Paulo's local sumo club has grown to comprise Brazilians of all backgrounds. Despite the sport's history of being exclusive to only men, more women are participating, including Taka's girlfriend, Luciana Watanabe.

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