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Sumo fan opens up about his huge memorabilia collection

Kindayu Kinzantei is seen with the oldest item in his collection, the official rankings list for the 1948 Summer Grand Sumo Tournament. (Mainichi)

For some people, sumo wrestling has the power to inspire a collection of memorabilia relating to the sport. Kindayu Kinzantei, 58, is one of these people. The collector has spent years amassing items such as official rankings lists, wrestlers' handprints, and rolls of cloth inscribed with wrestlers' names, from places such as secondhand book and clothes stores in Kyushu and Tokyo.

    "There are too many items to count. I've never even tried to count them all. The more I collect, the more I struggle to find somewhere to put them," Kinzantei says, upon being asked how many items he has gathered in total.

    Based in Fukuoka's Hakata Ward, Kinzantei has been a sumo fan for about 50 years. His first encounter with the sport happened during the latter years of elementary school, when he watched a sumo bout on television with his older brother.

    "The wrestlers looked so cool and strong," the collector recalls. Back then, Kinzantei would get particularly excited when watching the might and technique of the first Takanohana and Wajima, two highly popular wrestlers of the day.

    Items such as gift bags are seen. (Mainichi)

    Later, after entering junior high school, the sumo enthusiast went to see the Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament for the first time. He was captivated not only by the strength and size of the grapplers but also by the "distinct Japanese aesthetic" of the traditional sport.

    He was mesmerized by the banners outside the stadium displaying wrestlers' names, the way the grapplers would enter the venue wearing kimono and wooden sandals, the scent of "bintsuke wax" emanating from the wrestlers' hair, and the thick calligraphy.

    "The thick, spattered strokes of the calligraphy seemed to capture the nature of the clashes between the wrestlers, making the whole thing look fantastic," Kinzantei says. In fact, the calligraphy had such an impact that it inspired the collector to try it out for himself -- after which, he became active as a calligrapher.

    In one of the rooms in his atelier, there is a rankings list dating back to 1957 -- which was produced for the first ever Grand Sumo Tournament in Kyushu. Kinzantei points toward the list and picks out the name, "Tamanoumi Daisaburo," who won every single bout at the event as a rank-and-file hiramaku (maegashira) wrestler.

    Happi coats bearing the names of sumo wrestlers are seen. (Mainichi)

    That particular tournament was an emotional occasion, because Kyushu-bred Tamanoumi, who belonged to the Nishonoseki stable, managed to overcome illnesses and weight-loss to successfully clinch the title. Although the victory happened two years before Kinzantei was born, the 1957 list inspires him to imagine what life was like for all those wrestlers.

    However, the 1957 list is not the oldest rankings list in his collection. His oldest one dates back to the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament of May 1948, with the venue written down as, "Meiji Jingu Gaien" in Tokyo. The list is slightly smaller than those used today, and was reinforced with drawing paper. This collector's item is particularly precious, because it includes the name of the famous grappler the first Wakanohana, as well as Rikidozan, who later became a professional wrestler known as the "Father of Japanese pro wrestling."

    Kinzantei also possesses a large number of kimono and pieces of cloth inscribed with wrestlers' names. He has managed to acquire these items from secondhand clothes stores or through connections who are aware of his passion for sumo memorabilia.

    Nowadays, whenever he goes to watch a sumo bout, he will always wear a kimono that is created from some of the cloth in his collection. He wants young people to do the same, in the hope they will develop an interest in sumo culture. He also wants to pass on the concept of the "distinctive Japanese aesthetic" of sumo, which triggered his own interest many years ago.

    Other items in Kinzantei's collection include votive slips with the names of wrestlers, flags that are usually flown outside tournament venues, happi coats with the names of stables, and gift bags that are handed out at tournaments, as well as a specialist "sumo" magazine -- all of which are piled up in a small tatami room.

    A rankings list dating back to the first Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament in November 1957 is seen. (Mainichi)

    "The attraction of sumo is that it captures Japanese aesthetics. For example, the dignified exit from the ring, irrespective of victory or defeat, has a beautiful quality to it," the collector says.

    In recent years, there has been a trend of young female fans becoming attracted to the sport, but the collector wants the fan base to be expanded even further, including young children.

    "The tradition of sumo has been going since the Edo period, so it's important that we keep it going. It would be great if I could help pass on the unique beauty and strength of this Japanese sport to the next generation," Kinzantei says with a smile.

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