Sumo event brings Japanese culture to CSUN students

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Looking to promote the learning of Japanese culture, the Project Graduation Really Achieves Dreams (GRAD) Los Angeles organization brought to campus large sweaty men wearing no more than revealing mawashis.

The event was held March 16, sponsored in part by the College of Humanities and part of a U.S. tour by the California Sumo Association. The event included a lecture about sumo wrestling, followed by a demonstration by sumo wrestlers wearing the traditional mawashi belts.

During the demonstration, San Fernando High School students of Project GRAD Los Angeles, as well as CSUN students, were able to participate and experience firsthand the different techniques and exercises in sumo wrestling.

Some students also had the opportunity to have a match with a sumo world champion.

“(It taught me) humility,” said Clint Artran, junior physics major who volunteered to try out a sumo match with sumo world champion Koichi Kato. “The world champion gave me a chance to wrestle with him, and put on a demonstration.”

Akiko Hirota, coordinator of the Humanities Interdisciplinary Program and professor of modern and classical languages and literature, said this was a good opportunity for CSUN students to be exposed to one of the national sports in Japanese culture.

“Just as Japanese food, martial arts, karaoke, anime and Japanese popular music have attracted more and more devoted fans in recent years, fun events, such as sumo, can be an excellent way of arousing an initial interest of students in a very different culture and people,” Hirota said. “Such casual interest (in sumo wrestling) might lead students to ponder seriously about races, cultures and traditions, which in turn could lead them to take related courses.”

Ellison Weeks, senior communication studies major, who is involved with the Project GRAD Los Angeles, said students were able to see an ancient form of Japanese culture through the demonstration.

“(For) a lot people, the image they have of sumo wrestling is maybe something stereotypical,” Weeks said. “I think a lot of people are ignorant about the history and tradition behind it, and I think with the combination of video, lecture and demonstration, hopefully it will remove some of the ignorance and stereotypical views people have. Watching it on TV and watching it in person is very different. I think if you can see the physicality of it in person, you’ll get a different sense of what it’s all about.”

John Chehade, freshman mechanical engineering major, who also volunteered in the demonstration, said CSUN is a very cultural campus. He said this demonstration has taught him to “see the honor in the sport.”

According to Hirota, Project GRAD Los Angeles is a program that involves students in the Japanese program, and San Fernando High School students who are studying Japanese language and culture at CSUN in a four-week program jointly run by Project GRAD Los Angeles, the CSUN Japanese Program and the Center for Community Service-Learning.

Jose Farias, a San Fernando High School student who participated in the demonstration, said growing up in a Latino community, his experiences with Project GRAD Los Angeles, as well as the sumo wrestling demonstration, have helped him learn more about other cultures.

Yukimasa Muramatsu, director of the Prefectural Sumo Association from Japan, said he enjoyed his experience at CSUN, and hopes CSUN will someday have a sumo club.