Airline had to put on extra flight for sumo wrestlers as it was too heavy to fly
'I think the middle seat was the toughest.'
When it comes to sumo wrestling, one of Japan’s oldest and most sacred sports and pastimes, the rule tends to be to go big or go home.
But a group of sumo wrestlers hoping to compete nearly had to go home as their boarding a flight together would have exceeded the weight limit.
Japan Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier, took the ‘rare’ move of putting on an extra flight for the athletes who weighed around 120kg each – a weight slightly heavier than the 70kg average.
According to The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, two groups of the 27 total athletes reserved seats on separate flights on October 12.
One departure from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport and Itami Airport in Osaka Prefecture, a slightly smaller domestic airport.
Flights 659 from Haneda and 2465 from Itami were both set to land on Amami Ōshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture for the Special National Sports Festival.
Yet when the airline learnt that the flight lists included rikishi, staff worried that the two planes – smaller aircraft typically used for domestic flights – wouldn’t be able to carry sufficient fuel due to weight restrictions.
The athletes were attempting to board two Boeing 737-800s with a capacity of 165 passengers.
Charting a larger plane instead wasn’t an option, JAL said, as the Amani airport runway wasn’t wide enough.
With no other choice, the company laid on an additional service for 27 sumo wrestlers, with 14 athletes flying from Itami to Haneda to board the special flight.
A JAL spokesperson told the regional news outlet Minami Nippon Shimbun: ‘Due to the weight restrictions of this aircraft, it is extremely rare for us to operate special flights.’
The sumōtori flew back home on October 15 when the festival ended, going from Amani to Fukuoka before boarding a second, especially larger aircraft to jet to Haneda.
Three high school sumo athletes from Gunma Prefecture told CNN affiliate TV Asahi they sat next to one another on the flight home.
It was a tight squeeze – they weighed 140, 130 and 110 kilograms respectively.
One student said: ‘I think the middle seat was the toughest.’
A representative for the Gunma wrestlers added: ‘I was joking about the possible weight concerns, but it actually turned into a problem.
‘We had great support, although we are a little tired.’
With their hair in topknots, sumo sees nearly naked wrestlers usually in nothing more than loincloths force one another out of a roughly 15-foot-diameter ring.
There are no weight restrictions in sumo, meaning the brawlers may find themselves matches with someone twice their size.
Weight gain is an essential part of training. But with the numbers of wannabe professional wrestlers thinning out, Japanese sumo tournament organisers scaled down their 167cm height and 67kg weight recruitment minimums last month.
Sumo’s roots stretch far back into Japan’s history. Some historians trace it to harvest rituals associated with Shinto, a native religion that worships spirits found in all objects, whether living or inanimate.
Ceremonies believed to resemble sumo matches were performed in the eighth-century imperial courts before becoming a way for samurai warriors to earn money during times of peace.
Sumo wrestling today – complete with stomping and high sideways kicking before squaring off – emerged as a professional sport in the 20th century.
One of the heaviest Japanese sumo wrestlers in recorded history is Ryuichi Yamamoto, better known as Yamas, who is close to 270kg.
Worldwide, the title goes to Ōrora, a Russian-born rikishi who at his peak weight almost 293kg.
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