The Power of Language (And Numbers)

January 18, 2010

Long-time readers of this space will know that my wife and I are devotees of sumo.  I have written about it here on numerous occasions.  In fact, this year will be our ninth anniversary of watching every sumo tournament (basho), fifteen days of action every two months.  And in all that time, we have been watching NHK’s coverage in Japanese, a language we do not speak or read.

In that time we have seen roughly 16,000 sumo bouts (20 bouts x 15 days x 6 times per year x 9 years) — and that’s a lot of wrestling.   It has also given us a lot of time to understand some basic words in an unknown language with an apparently incomprehensible script.  And over the years we have come to know quite a lot of specific Japanese terms, have come to understand names and throws, and we have even learned to recognize certain kanji characters and the sounds they represent.

This month, we finally got the English language feed to work (who knew I had to set up my TV as “default- Spanish”?) and it is an extraordinary step forward for us.  NHK have a variety of men and women who deliver their own commentary on the nightly contests (not just a straight translation of the regular NHK broadcast).  They give us the kind of gossip and chat that we didn’t even know existed in the sport.  We are pleased that many of the guesses we had made about things we didn’t understand proved accurate. And each night (nine so far this basho — one of the most exciting and closely fought we have ever seen) we learn more and more.  It is a truly stimulating experience.

The long period of self-study we put ourselves through really set us up to take advantage of the information we are now receiving.  After all these years, sumo is proving to be even more fascinating than we have previously imagined.