It doesn't quite conjure up the same seductive images as beach volleyball, but if Takuya Kagata gets his way the next big thing in seaside sports could be sumo wrestling.
Kagata, 33, the executive director of the Nippon Beach Sumo Association, says tournaments have already been held in Chiba, Kanagawa and Hyogo prefectures this year and are attracting up to 60 participants at a time.
"Traditional sumo requires participants to wear a sumo belt, which is inconvenient. But, in beach sumo, participants are allowed to wear bathing suits. This makes the sport more approachable," Kagata says.
Beach sumo starts and ends with a bow, just as in traditional sumo. Women wear T-shirts over their swimsuits, and dangerous neck and forearm throws are forbidden.
Otherwise, it has pretty much the same rules as the established sport. There are even ringside judges with access to videos taken with an iPad to oversee and sometimes overrule the referee's decisions. Men, women and children compete in separate divisions.
People can walk off the beach and take part and, while many initially have a go as a joke, they often get serious about the sport as the competition progresses. After the wrestling, all participants clean the beach.
Beach sumo was only invented in 2003 but is already attracting official attention. A beach sumo tournament hosted in Sarushima in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in late July was backed by the local city government as a tourist event, and a number of other municipal governments have inquired about staging their own competitions. A tournament is scheduled in quake-hit Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, in September.
Kagata says he hopes beach sumo will raise the Japanese public's interest in the sport in general.
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