The Agony And Ecstasy Of Collegiate Sumo Training In Japan

Scene from the opening of “Asa Geiko” an exhibition by Francis Harrison

The Agony And Ecstasy Of Collegiate Sumo Training In Japan

Charnwood Arts presents a unique documentary photo series on the brutal, rarely glimpsed training of amateur sumo training at a major Tokyo university.

The exhibition, called “Asa Geiko” (Morning Practice), is the work of Francis Harrison, a photographer and long-time resident of Japan.

Shot in moody monochrome, the photographs recall photo essays by Eugene Smith and others during the heyday of Life Magazine.

Francis Harrison describes the project thus:

“I was attracted to traditional themes as a counterpoint to the soullessness and wholesale Westernisation so prevalent in modern Japan.

My early background in the martial arts naturally led me to an orthodox sumo club at an agricultural college near my home, where I was eventually allowed to shoot freely by the coach, a fiercely traditional man.

What struck me from the start was the aura of discipline and sacrifice that suffused the place. Long periods of stretching and limbering up would be interrupted by instants of total violence, none of it personal but totally committed nonetheless.

Over time, I was deeply moved by the dedication of these young men, most of whom would never make it to the Pros while punishing their bodies sometimes with lasting effect.

My promise to the coach was to give an accurate representation of genuine sumo to the outside world, where so often the sport is seen as “fat babies in diapers”, and I only hope that I have kept my promise and done justice to these powerful athletes.”

The exhibition is divided into three phases: “Preparation”, “Combat” and “Contemplation” reflecting the various parts and moods of any given practice session. Through these stages one can catch glimpses of an older Japan where ancestral voices predominate…

Text: Charnwood Arts
Photo: Paul Conneally

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