• Photography:Cameron Allan Mckean
  • Photography:Cameron Allan Mckean

Saburo Hatakeyama: Keep your back to the outside

, 2014/01/10

“My name is Shonosuke Kimura, but the name I was born with is Saburo Hatakeyama.” One of the only people allowed within the ring during a Sumo match Inosuke sets the pace of the matches, decides outcomes, and guides the wrestlers through prayers. He is a Gyoji, whose complex and ritualised job places him somewhere between Shinto Priest and Sumo referee. We are speaking with him today in a sprawling but empty tatami room in the basement of the Sumo Hall. He arrives in a grey suit. He is stern and concise, and doesn’t break into a smile, or overexplain anything; an impartial Judge. Inosuke quickly changes into his Gyoji uniform; an elaborate layering of patterned purple fabric, a hat, a paddle, and a blade to disembowel himself in the event that he makes a wrong judgement (thankfully it’s just symbolic these days). While other traditions in Japan require years or decades of experience before someone can actually begin doing the work, Shonosuke says he began judging matches almsot immediately after beginning, “the point is to actually learn through experience, to actually do it.” Experience is necessary to calm the nerves when you’re in front of 11,000 people in the Sumo Hall, but Shonosuke says he just “pushes everything out of his mind.” Being in the ring with two colliding giants requires intense focus. Once a falling wrestler knocked him off the ring and he passed out from a concussion, “other judges had to judge the outcome of match,” and he adds, “you also have to watch out for salt getting thrown at you.” Wrestlers sometimes throw the purifying salt recklessly during the pre-match ritual. But salt is a minor concern, the hardest thing is “always keeping your back to the outside,” as a way of staying safe. Insides and outsides are everywhere in Sumo culture. The Sumo Association which manages the matches and employee’s (including Gyoji’s) keeps information about how they operate to insiders only, leading to an air of mysticism and mystery around Sumo (and sneaking suspicions about subterfuge). More of a worry for many people is the involvement of wrestlers from outside Japan. “Foreigners are getting much stronger, there are foreigners in everything,” says Shonosuke. He is not sure why more Japanese don’t become wrestlers. Maybe it just isn’t exciting for children anymore, “maybe we need Sumo rings in schools,” he wonders, or “maybe Japanese people don’t like having so much of their body exposed?” The question is, how can Sumo capture the imagination of the modern generation without letting go of its traditional roots? “I don’t know,” says Inosuke, “I just love Sumo, the best thing about my job is that I get to see Sumo closer than anyone else.”
This story originally appeared in PAPERSKY’s ARGENTINA | ART Issue (no.43)



A Gallery dedicated to featuring art, photography, illu […]

Talking with Trees | PAPERSKY #62 Tokyo Tree Trek

This issue is dedicated to Tokyo’s unsung hero the tree […]


These ‘Sandal Socks’ bring function and design together […]

A flood of green, light blue, and smoky brown | Asagao 3

Tokyo’s rivers used to flood almost every year an […]

Flowers after a great fire | Asagao 2

There was nothing left after the March 1945 firebombing […]

The seeds of obsession | Asagao 1 Tokyo Morning Glory

Every year In Iriya, downtown Tokyo, the Japanese Asaga […]

Yasushi Nishimura: Binding a tradition together everyday with string

It’s just after lunchtime on a hot day during Tok […]

Hiroko Ichige: Bento boxes, green tea, sweets and Sumo.

Six in the morning in the old part of Tokyo. The Septem […]

Life Cycles, a Tokyo bike story

If you lock your bike in the wrong place for too long i […]


BNE: The BNE Water Organization

After fifteen years as a street artist, American-roots […]

Toshiko Tomita

Toshihiko Tomita: Keirin Ambassador

“Those were the golden years of Keirin you know, you co […]

Ryue Nishizawa

Ryue Nishizawa: Travel from Places to Spaces

Architect Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966) has become one of th […]

Hitoshi Kawabuchi

Buchi: Skateboard File VII

Hirotoshi Kawabuchi is a young amateur skater living in […]

Motoyuki Shibata

Motoyuki Shibata: All Stories About Travel

I met Motoyuki Shibata several years ago in New York Ci […]


Otaki (T-19): Skateboard File VI

“The idea for T-19 was always in my head. What I saw wh […]

Elein Fleiss

Elein Fleiss: Change Again

There comes a magazine that changes all the rules. In 1 […]

Chiori Yamamoto

Chiori Yamamoto: Japanese Soul Food

Gatemo Tabum is the neighborhood joint we all wish we l […]

Daido Moriyama

Daido Moriyama: Perspective Reach

The second in a new series taking a closer look at Japa […]

Daisuke Tanaka

Daisuke Tanaka: Skateboard File V

Skateboarding needs art as much as it needs skaters. On […]

Senn Ozawa

Senn Ozawa: Skateboard File IV

The current issue of Sb, The 2010 Photo Annual, bears a […]


Hitozuki: 15 Years in Paint

The first day of painting was the coldest but instead o […]

Yuri Shibuya

Yuri Shibuya: Perspective Reach

The first in a new series taking a closer look at Japan […]

Akiko Mera

Akiko Mera: Oxfam Trailwalker

What’s the farthest you’ve ever walked? To the bus stop […]

Tomoko Yamane

Tomoko Yamane: Bento in Berlin

Tomoko Yamane thoughtfully recalls growing up cooking w […]


Deshi: Skateboard File III

“I grew up in nature- my house was surrounded by it, I […]

Wim Wenders

Wim Wenders: Photography of Place

“All my films start with places- cities, deserts. But t […]

Koji Asada

Koji Asada (Lesque): Skateboard File II

For Koji Asada and the Lesque (les-ke) team, skateboard […]

Haruomi Hosono

Haruomi Hosono: Planet of sound

Haruomi Hosono’s early discography contains the band Ha […]

Taro Hirano

Taro Hirano: Skateboard File I

Taro Hirano is better known as the photo editor of skat […]

Shinobu Machida

Shinobu Machida: The Myojin Sento

The final of our three-part series on The Japanese Sent […]

Katsuhiro Kawazu

Katsuhiro Kawazu: Antiques in Nezu

There are many hidden treasures tucked away in the slee […]

Hiroshi Miura

Hiroshi Miura: Wood Philosophy

Japan has an overwhelming tradition of carpentry. It’s […]

Kiyoto Maruyama

Kiyoto Maruyama: Holy Mountain Painting

The second of our three-part series on The Japanese Sen […]


Yoyo: Kitchen Revolution

“I started cooking when I started VEGE Shokudo” – said […]

Yuichiro Miura

Yuichiro Miura: Climbing Everest at 70

“I want to stand atop Mt. Everest when I am 70 years ol […]

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono: Journeywoman

Yoko Ono’s public persona is one part mercurial, two pa […]

Brit Matt Rogers

Brit Matt Rogers: Keirin Dreams

Their colored helmets are a blur as they spin around th […]

Yuji Hirayama

Hirayama Yuji: Professional Free Climber

I first tried rock climbing when I was fifteen- I was o […]

Matohu: How Pottery Becomes Clothes

Hiroyuki Horihata and Makiko Sekiguchi, the design duo […]

Shusetsu Tachibana

Shusetsu Tachibana: The Last Sansuke

With wrinkled and nimble hands Shusetsu Tachibana washe […]

  • Advert Slides

  • world & japan maps



  • Papersky Mobile

  • soundtrack


  • enalloid

  • URD Craftsman Series


  • Lee Riders


  • green label relaxing Green Travel


  • Tour de Nippon


  • luca-mon


  • Hike & Bike

  • globe walker OLD JAPANESE HIGHWAY

  • cyclemaps



  • Tour column

    tourcolumn banner_03