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Monday, March 31, 2014

Akebono The Cop

First... Happy birthday to my good friend Rob, who thanks to his many letters from Toronto to me in Japan, encouraged me to write and to write often. It was for his birthday present some 22 years ago that I first decided to write him a short story every day in lieu of a boring letter. I decided that at the beginning of March, and after three boring letters, I started the short stories until the 31st of March, his actual birthday.

It was a short story a day that sometime evolved into three short stories a day in what I can only describe as the most prolific and inventive time of my life as a writer. I still have all of those stories... and slowly, since there is little market for short stories, I'll publish them here even though their only link to Japan may be that they were written there. Jappy birthday, Rob!

Ha. That was a typo... but I suppose it fits.

Today's blog, to celebrate that milestone event is the publication of one of those stories... one known as Akebono The Cop. It's a strange story, and one, like all my tales, was written without a plot in mind. I just start writing and things pop out of my head and onto the paper (in this case). It's why I love to write... I'm always surprised with how my story will start, ebb, flow and end.

This is from one of my collections of short stories... a comedic collection I call Dust Bunnies Of The Mind. The other is Brain Methylal, which contains more serious, dramatic writings.

Akebono The Cop is about former sumo wrestler Yokozuna Akebono, who was not yet a Yokozuna (top rank in the sport that one gets elected to) when I wrote this... but I knew he would be one day. I was write and right. Akebono (photo above) is the first foreigner to become a Yokozuna in the illustrious history of the sport becoming so in January of 1993 about nine months before I left Japan.

His rise afforded me a bit of bragging rights amongst the Japanese men, as I always said he could do it. Musashimaru, too... another foreigner (originally Fiamalu Penitani from American Samoa - 235 kg (518lb) and 1.92 meter (6'-3.5") was my favorite from the moment I first saw him throw salt around the ring... and I knew he had the look of a champion. He made me correct.  He was the second foreign-born Yokozuna. I met him once when he was not yet a Grand Champion and chatted with him for a while, telling him I thought he would one day be Yokozuna. He laughed, called me 'bra', which I assume is slang for 'brother', or that he wanted me to go and find a bra for him. It was nippy that morning. He had a great big smile when out in public and was a very funny guy, but man did he have a great stony game face when it came time to wrestle.  
A retired Taknohana.
Akebono is actually Chad Rowan, and was born in Waimānalo, Hawai, U.S. Before becoming Yokozuna, Akebono's claim to fame was that he was one of the tallest (and heaviest) o-sumo ever, coming in at 2.03 meters (6'-8") and at his heaviest, 233 kilograms (514 lbs). For the story, I had Akebono grow taller... or I just screwed up on his actual height, relying on Japanese people to provide his physical details since the Internet wasn't yet ready for prime time.

Akebono The Cop also stars real life Japanese sumo brothers Takanohana and (briefly) Wakanohana... with both brothers also rising to Yokozuna eventually. I knew Takanohana would, but had my doubts about his slightly less-talented brother and am glad he proved me wrong. Takanohana, by the way, was the Japanese heartthrob sumo wrestler in his sporting days... women thought him very good-looking (despite his bulk) and the men loved his athleticism. Since retiring... holy crap... the women were right.

Anyhow... because of the Japanese love-affair with the brothers, in this story I decided to make Takanohana slightly addled... making him think he was the character Uncle Charlie from the popular American television show My Three Sons that ran from 1960-1972.
Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons.
I have no idea why I made Takanohana into that character... and no... I was not doing drugs or suffering from any sort of mental illness save creativity. Okay... it was my prejudice against the pretty-boy Japanese sumo wrestler over the gaijin wrestlers.

pushed out by andrew joseph

First the left arm is pushed forward. Then, while it is brought back to its point of origin, the right arm is thrust forward. The process is repeated again and again. Rhyme without reason quickly becomes poetry in motion.

The cars in one direction quickly apply their brakes in accordance with his hand signals. The cars perpendicular to the others begin their forward motion. Akebono the police officer is on duty. To protect and to swerve.

Some time in the not too distant future, the everyday madness of reality has transmogrified into a never-ending chaotic nightmare. In a time when heroes were desperately required, the Japan Sumo Association, amid much bravado, quietly ambled to the forefront to help return a semblance of normality. And why not? After all, they were partially responsible.

It all began a few years ago in the early part of this decade (the 1990s). A young man from the small town of Ogawa in the Japanese province of Tochigi, arrived on the sumo scene. The meteoric rise of the young star in the celestial sphere of sumo was heralded as the second coming of sport's greatest fighter, Chiyonofuji.

Tournament after tournament, the young sumotori (sumo wrestler) garnered respect and acclaim. By the time he had turned 18-years-old, he had become the youngest person ever to hold sumo's highest rank - Yokozuna. Yama Yama Yama was his name (yama means "mountain").

In case you are unaware of some of the intricacies of sumo, we'll take a time-out to fill you in. Sumo is Japan's national sport. It is a wrestling match that takes place with in a circle of clay. The object of the sport is to cause your opponent to either leave the circle or to have a piece of his body - other than his feet - touch the ground. Every two months, there is a 15 day tournament.

Prior to every match, the two combatants will purify the ring by tossing salt onto the clay surface. There is also prayer to the gods and other types of psyching up.

Sumotori (sumo wrestlers) are ranked going into every basho (tournament). The highest ranked sumotori are called Yokozuna. They are elected to this position for life after winning two basho in a row, or having a superior three tournament record. Next in rank is the Ozeki class. Following the Ozeki are Sekiwake, and Komusubi. Although there are no restrictions to the number of wrestlers who can be in these top four ranks, it is often limited to under six. After this group come the rank and file sumotori, the Maegashira.

During the November 1994 tournament, Yama Yama Yama was tied with another Yokozuna, Akebono, at 11 wins apiece, heading into the twelfth day. Yama Yama Yama's opponent that day was Komusubi-ranked, Tochinowaka.

After all of the purifying of the ring had been accomplished, the two sumotori lowered their head, dropped their fists to the ground and exploded towards each other. Yama Yama Yama never knew what hit him, although apparently everyone else did. Tochinowaka's head had smashed against the young Yokozuna's and cracked it wide open.

Yama Yama Yama's stay in the hospital lasted the entire basho, but he was up and around for the January '95 tournament in Tokyo. There were reports that Yama Yama Yama had changed during his brief hospitalization, but none were prepared for what they saw during the tournament.

The viciousness exhibited by Yama Yama Yama was unparalleled in the sport of sumo or ice hockey. He was severely reprimanded by the Japan Sumo Association after his third successive match caused the withdrawal of a sumotori.

On the fourth day, Yama Yama Yama went up against fellow Yokozuna, Takanohana. Immediately after the tachiai (where they first touch the ground immediately before the ensuing fight), Yama Yama Yama leaped for Takanohana's arm and began chewing on it. While he bit him, he screamed how he needed "more chanko" (chanko is the stew a sumotori eats each and everyday). The destruction to Takanohana's arm continued unabated for about 20 more seconds until the referee was finally able to separate the teeth from the flesh.

Needless to say, Yama Yama Yama was quickly forced to retire as Yokozuna and from sumo. In an accelerated process, the Japan Sumo Association tried to cut his hair (the topknot that would symbolically mean his retirement was official.) However, when the old and decrepit members of the JSA arrived at his stable the next day, Yama Yama Yama had disappeared.

No one had heard a thing about Yama Yama Yama for over a year until he suddenly appeared at a Tokyo fish market in his sumo outfit with six other former sumo fighters. They quickly bulldozed everyone out of their way, hijacked the fresh shipment of fish and left. These hit-and-runs, by whom the media has dubbed the "Yama Yama Yama's" because of the newsmen's lack of imagination, continued unabated for several months. Besides stealing seafood, the Yama Yama Yama's began robbing all poultry, meat and vegetable foods. The final straw was when they began taking supplies of rice.

Rice, to the average Japanese, has been ingrained upon the national psyche, to be indispensable. The panic that ensued triggered such chaos that the media began calling it the Great Chaos. Like I said... a lack of imagination.

The Japanese people, faced with the prospect of buying American rice or starving, began to slowly wither away.

The United States of America, deciding two years earlier to become an agrarian rice economy, had hedged all of their bets that the Japanese would buy their product. The collapse of the American system of democracy occurred rapidly and without a problem.

The only thing left for the average Japanese family to eat were fattening, little sweets with bean paste in them, as apparently the Yama Yama Yama's did not care for the stuff.

Families began buying large quantities of the bean paste in the hopes that their youth might grow large enough to join the Yama Yama Yama's. At least then - it was reasoned - they would be able to live a normal life. Honour and self-respect were thrown out the proverbial paper window when it came to survival. (Eating American rice was also the Japanese equivalent of hara kiri - ritualistic suicide). Getting a chance to eat normal food, albeit chanko, was better than nothing.

The ranks of the Yama Yama Yama's swelled to enormous proportions.

Finally, five years later, the JSA admitted to some culpability for the Great Chaos saying, "The situation was regrettable." They decided to combat the problem of lawlessness in their own manner with the formation of the Sumo Patrol. Now wherever crime appeared, the Sumo Patrol would be there to waddle over and fight it.

Akebono sat cross-legged in his personally-designed apartment where his head only barely scraped the ceiling. At 2.4 meters, he was the tallest sumotori ever. He smiled as he listened to his favorite group on his headphones. The rock and roll group, Beck, had become more popular than sex during the Great Chaos and thus were to blame for the fall in the world's population.

There was one song in particular that he like because it mentioned his name. He had a mini-disc made where the song "St. Lawrence River" is continually looped.

He sang out loud, "... and I swim on the forest, and I walk my dog Rover. I'm Akebono the Cop, come and smell all my clover..." The rest of the song was incomprehensible. Still, he liked how the song talked about the eternal struggle of the common man to overcome the flames of destruction. And bean paste.

He got up, undressed, and put on his purple sumo garb and a navy blue hat, and walked downstairs to the beya below (beya is the term used to describe a stable where a group of sumotori work out).

There, in the stable, the rest of the Sumo Patrol practiced slapping their hands against wooden poles and throwing each other onto the clay surface of the doyo (fighting ring).

Seeing their leader, Ozeki Terrao, Ozeki Kotonishiki and Ozeki Wakanohana quickly called the men to gather around in a phalanx.

Akebono looked grimly into the face of Sekiwake Mainoumi and Komusubi Kabajin and grimaced. The rest of the men were lower level wrestlers, too numerous in their mediocrity to mention by name. The only plus they had going for them was that they fought on the side of law and order. It still pained Akebono to remember his best friend and fellow Hawaiian Musashimaru's defection to the Yama Yama Yama's.

His reverie was interrupted by former Yokozuna Takanohana who ambled out and shouted at the boys to come and see the TV news and to eat their chanko before it got too cold. Takanohana was never quite the same after Yama Yama Yama mauled his arm. His brother Wakanohana's subsequent betrothal to his former fiance, actress Rie Miyazawa, didn't help his mental stability either. Takanohana had gone from being one of sumo's best fighting tacticians to a man similar in life to Uncle Charlie from the old TV show, My Three Sons. He was a good cook, though.

Like a herd of elephants (not quite, as a herd of elephants does not quite weigh as much as a beya of sumotori), they stampeded over to the dining area and began stuffing chanko and beer down their throats. Akebono was already on his third bowl of stew when Uncle Charlie... er, Takanohana cleared his throat. "Huaaarrrrcccch. Bakayaro! (Stupid idiots) I said there was food for you, but the important thing I meant for you to pay attention to was the news on the television!"

Every single eye lifted itself up from the food to stare at Uncle... er, Uncle Takanohana. The eyes then shifted over to Akebono as he began to stand.

"Food is important, also," said Akebono.

The eyes shifted over to Takanohana

"Yes, but at this time, the television is more important," said Takanohana.

The eyes moved back to the super cop, Akebono.

"Very well, we shall watch the television news," said Akebono.

The eyes lobbed back to Takanohana.

"Well, not now, you idiots! You missed the news that was on!" exclaimed Takanohana.

All of the eyes grimaced as they diverted their eyes downwards, but towards Akebono.

"If it is important enough for us to know, it will be on again soon enough," reasoned Akebono as he motioned for the rest of the Sumo Patrol to stop looking at the ground and to eat their food.

Akebono and Takanohana looked at each other for a few seconds, remembering the good old days, when a situation like this would have been a prelude for an excellent match. Now they diverted their mouth's attention to their chanko and their ears to the ramblings of the television.

Several hours later, the NHK news came back on. After spending 25 minutes showing footage of the royal princess and her husband waving at a crowd of well-wishers, NHK broke for commercial. When they came back, the final three minutes were devoted to world news and to a further Yama Yama Yama atrocity.

The Sumo Patrol was riveted to the screen watching the Princess and her husband, but were bored with the world news. When the Yama Yama Yama story came on, only Akebono was awake to watch it.

The story detailed an invitation from Yama Yama Yama himself for Akebono and his troops to come and do battle with the Yama Yama Yama's. The winner would be allowed to assume total control of Japan's sake (traditional rice wine) and thus Japan. The report then went on to state that the Sumo Patrol had not responded in time to the challenge. Apparently, Akebono and the Sumo Patrol were supposed to have responded by charging over to Tokyo's sumo dome to do battle with the Yama Yama Yama's at 9PM, but no sign of them was noted by the television media. They called it the Great No-Show. Imagination. Not.

Screaming in shock and embarrassment, Akebono woke his troops as he ran to the telephone. Unfortunately the only phone in the stable was a pay phone and Akebono's sumo outfit did not allow room for change. After much bullying of the lower wrestlers, a ten yen piece was quickly procured. Akebono began dialing.

He stopped as he realized he had no idea whom he should be calling.

"What's the matter ya knucklehead?" snarled a crusty Takanohana. "Don't you know who you're supposed to call? Of course you don't! That's the matter with kids these days. Here ya go Chip. I wrote the number of the Yama Yama Yama hotline, so we can make arrangements to kick their butt!"

Akebono smiled, bowed deeply and took the slip of paper from Takanohana. He briefly wondered why Taka sounded like an old man... and who the hell was Chip?

Akebono dialed the number and waited the appropriate 17 rings before it was finally answered.

"Hello?" said a disembodied voice through Akebono's telephone.

"Hello. Could I speak to Yama Yama Yama, please?" asked Akebono.

"Whom shall I say is calling?"


"The Akebono?"

"Yes, I suppose so."

"Just one moment please. I'll see if he's in..."

There is a yelp and a scream of "Konoyaro!" (Translated, it means "You... you guy, you" - hey, it's a stronger insult in Japanese) This was followed by a gruff, "Give me that phone." The new disembodied voice on the other end was not quite as sweet, "Hello?"


"Is this Akebono?"


"Why hello. This is Yama Yama Yama. How are you?"

"I'm fine, thank-you. How are you?" asked Akebono.

"Fine, thank-you."

"...," said Akebono.

"...," said Yama Yama Yama.

"So.... I'm sorry about not being able to meet your deadline."

"Yes, well, I assumed it was because you did not like being ordered around. What Yokozuna would?" asked Yama Yama Yama.

"Oh, no. It's just that we were too busy eating to watch the news," answered Akebono.

Because Yama Yama Yama realized that eating is part of a sumotori's work, he had to silently respect his adversary. He had to respect the Japanese tradition of placing work above all else.

"Well," began Yama Yama Yama, "I had originally invited your sumo patrol to come and do battle with my gang. That has now changed. I now wish to satisfy my male ego and do personal battle with you, and you alone, at the Tokyo Sumo Palace."

"Where the Emperor is?"

"No, where the other palace is," snarled Yama Yama Yama as he began to wonder which of the two was truly mad.


"How about noon tomorrow?"


Hanging up the phone, Akebono turned and strode past his fellow wrestlers.

"Where ya going, Chip?" sneered Uncle Takanohana.

"I'm going to the gym... to prepare for tomorrow. You are all ordered to join me if you wish. Come."

The next morning, a sweaty, muscular Akebono toweled himself off, coughed, and waited for his breakfast. He then put on his yukata (light male kimono) and went down to the Tokyo subway station. He was alone.

After six train changes, and a 40-minute ride, Akebono was at the Tokyo Sumo Palace - where the Emperor doesn't live. He walked slowly with exacted deliberance... (is that a word?)...  uh, he took his time because the Japanese train system was so efficient that he arrived two minutes early for his confrontation with Yama Yama Yama.

He walked into the palatial palace, and disrobed (he was wearing his sumo garb - unlike that unfortunate incident when he visited that girl's high school in Osaka). He walked over to the ring. There, on the opposite side, Yama Yama Yama sat cross-legged with his arms folded neatly across his massive hairless chest.

Not a word was spoken.

Yama Yama Yama tried to stand up but fell down a few times, as his legs had apparently fallen asleep. True to his station in life, Yama Yama Yama did not cry out in pain - not even when the searing needle pain permeated his legs.

Akebono waited patiently on the outside rim of the doyo. When Yama Yama Yama had regained the feeling in his legs, both he and Akebono bowed and entered the clay ring. Almost magically, an old brightly coloured Japanese man appeared beside them (he's the referee). In a high-pitched voice, he first butchered Akebono's name and then Yama Yama Yama's. Ah, tradition.

Akebono and Yama Yama Yama did their stretches, stomps, claps and purification ceremonies to the satisfaction of the rainbow umpire. They went back to their respective corners, toweled off, adjusted themselves (the sumo uniform had a nasty way of lodging itself in the nastiest of crevices), and grabbed a handful of salt.

Tossing the salt into the ring, both slapped their own faces, slapped their belts, and licked at their fingers, as the salt always found a way to stick to sweaty palms. And those nasty crevices.

Crouching and facing each other in the center of the ring, the two combatants prepared to do battle to wrest control of the Japanese economy and thus the world's. They stared fiercely at each other, and lowered their fists to the ground.


Yama Yama Yama's body slammed hard against Akebono's and then slid lifelessly down onto the clay.

"Eh?" asked Akebono as he slapped the bleeding form of his opponent.

"Ya damn fool kids!" yelled Takanohana. A smoking gun waved uneasily in his hand as he ambled over to Akebono. "Oh, I tell ya, Chip, your father would've killed me if I let you fight that bully. I almost didn't make here in time, because of my damn war wound. Did I ever tell you how I was shot by the Japanese in the Philippines? Anyhow, now that I've killed that bully, maybe we can all go home and act like a family again. Whaddya say, Chip?"

"Unn," said Akebono.

"Good. How'd you like me to make some oatmeal for dinner?"

As our heroes walked back to the train station, it should be noted that Akebono (and uncle Ch... Takanohana) did indeed stop the threat of Yama Yama Yama and restore Japan's food sources, and thus Japanese dominance throughout the world. The United States of America's fortune did not rise with Japan's rising sun. As mentioned previously, America had changed to an agrarian society with a big lean towards rice. The Japanese still wouldn't buy rice that wasn't grown in Japan... even if it was exactly the same as Japanese rice and cost less. Ah. Tradition.

The End

I was probably inspired to create this story after putting two and two together and noting that sumo arm movements are quite similar to a traffic cop's.

There are plenty of true Japanisms in this story... the rice, telephone protocol, trains, sumo stuff, My Three Sons, the media, love of Japanese royalty, sitting cross-legged, telephone conversations... it was basically my way of pointing out some of the silly stuff about Japan. It IS interesting to note that I put my favorite wrestler, Musashimaru, over onto the bad guys, and that addled or not the real hero was Uncle Charlie, I mean Takanohana... and again, while I respected him, he was never my favorite wrestler... I suppose it was Japan's respect for him that I made him the crazy guy with a gun who saved the day...

The ending also points out two things, which I'll point out for those of you not as familiar with Japan as I once was... the sumo association has been weak and ineffectual for a while... was recently accused of match fixing that almost destroyed Japan's national sport... and while it is finally cleaned up... who the heck knows... it was like steroids in baseball or a strike in hockey... deadly to the sport.

The other important thing was Uncle Charlie's weapon of choice. Sumo, despite being very entertaining to me, always seemed to have it in for the foreigner wrestler... and though that wasn't the case after Akebono became champ, I still never trusted them... and so, sumo could never save Japan. I picked the one weapon that Japan hates - guns. Despite the movies, guns in Japan are a rarity.The police do have guns now (pistols)... but I never saw one back in the 1990s.

Anyhow... I hope you found it amusing. I love the stilted, heavy-handed conversations from everyone except the crazy Takanohana who thought he was an American! I actually laughed out loud when I re-read this story ... I had not read it in 20+ years. The ending surprised me as much as it probably did when my fingers starting typing out the letters back then.

Andrew Joseph

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