A loud thud broke the silence and a victorious wrestler lifted his sweat-drenched body as the scorching summer sun rose out of the ocean at a summer training camp in an oceanside area of Soma, devastated by the March 11 tsunami-disaster.
The wrestlers wanted both to give back to the community, some 270 km northeast of Tokyo, that has hosted their summer training for 20 years — and also redeem their ancient sport, tainted by recent scandals.
“I’m still scared of aftershocks, but I want to fight my heart out for my family and make people in Soma smile again,” said winning wrestler Oazuma, 21, wiping his wide forehead.
A metal roof was the only thing left of the sumo summer gym, or “stable”, after the massive 9.0 quake triggered a tsunami that left parts of Soma a pile of rubble and set off the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at a nuclear plant just 50 km away.
Some 80,000 have been forced to leave their homes near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which continues to leak radiation — including the family of wrestler Oazuma. “My dad and mum lost their jobs, and although I'm just a sumo beginner I ended up as the sole family breadwinner,” he added.
Having the wrestlers return as if it was any other summer is seen by many as a vital step to lift morale as survivors make fragile attempts to rebuild their shattered lives.
“We live in the shadow of Fukushima. Many people have left this area,” said Hiroko Mori, who loves sumo wrestling. “It’s great to have them back.”