The new, difficult-to-throw zabuton made their debut at the Kyushu tournament at Fukuoka City’s Fukuoka Kokusai Center on Sunday the 9th. The space in the box seat areas have been expanded, and instead of having four individual square zabuton for each of the patrons in the box, they will be provided with double zabuton sets. These consist of two rectangular cushions measuring 125 centimeters (49 inches) by 50 centimeters and attached by a cord. A fan would have to be seriously upset to get one of those things airborne.The first day must have been frustrating for would-be launchers of zabuton torpedoes because the lower-ranking veteran Aminishiki gave the live audience a perfect opportunity by defeating reigning champion Hakuho.
The reactions to the new cushions have been mixed. One member of a local Kyushu group with ringside seats (called suna kaburi in Japanese, or “covered with sand”) said, “I’ve been hit by flying zabuton before, and it didn’t hurt. But some people who have been hit said that it hurt a lot, so I’m glad they’re doing something about it.”
In contrast, one woman in her 20s from Fukuoka City who plans to attend the tournament said she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to see any flying zabuton because she thought it represented the real sumo atmosphere. A housewife in her 50s said she thought it was a bit frightening because people might decide to throw something else instead of the zabuton. (Are not those views representative of the classic difference between youth and age?)
After Day 8, however, Hakuho remains tied for the lead, at 7-1, with Miyabiyama, another lower-ranking veteran who is currently the heaviest rikishi in the top division, tipping the scales at 179 kg, just 2 kg more than the giant Estonian Baruto.
Among the fresh foreigner faces in the top level this time around are: the Mongolian Koryu, the Russian Aran, and the Georgian Tochinoshin. There are now eight Mongolians in the top division, and six more in the Juryo rankings, along with two Georgians, one Bulgarian, one Estonian, one Korean, and one Russian.
Now if they could just prevent the wrestlers from throwing matches ...