Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Yokozuna Memories

20 years ago, to the month, I sat in Kyushu, Japan, watching Akebono Tarō win his last Grand Sumo tournament.  It was one of the most unique experiences of my life.  It almost didn't happen, and was purely by chance.

A friend was required by his company, Honda, to go to Japan, right before Thanksgiving.  Recently divorced, he had a second plane ticket, and didn't want to go alone. I'd have to get my own hotel room, but compared to the flight, hotels are pretty cheap. Of course I said I'd go.

I didn't have enough vacation time, though.  The trip was going to be a couple of weeks, and I didn't have enough left.  Surprisingly, when I told my boss, he gave me the extra days.

Then there was the fact I didn't have a current passport.  It had to be expedited.  Scheduled, precariously, to arrive the day before we left, it was to be shipped to my workplace.  Something happened, though, and it was returned to the post office.  I had to leave work and go to the post office in a town I'd never visited to pick it up. 

Without the passport, I couldn't have left the airport, if I was even allowed to get on the plane in Atlanta. Then, the postal worker told me I'd need proof of my identity to pick it up!  Luckily, I'd brought the proper identification documentation with me to work that I needed to pick it up from the small town post office.   

The flight was the earliest of the day out of Montgomery where we'd catch the first flight out of Atlanta for Tokyo.  We met early at the airport to make sure we had everything and that it was all in order.  Being so early, my buddy had very little sleep the night before.  He didn't look well.  He seemed ill at ease as the plane taxied.  As the plane began takeoff, he turned green.  I knew he was about to lose his cookies and not be able to make the flight in Atlanta.

Once again, things worked out.  He began to feel better in the 30 minute flight.  By the time we got to Atlanta, he was laughing and hungry.  

Then, there were the trains and buses to get from Narita to Haneda airports in Tokyo.  How we did that, I still don't know.  Neither of us knew the language... I'd bought a cassette tape of common Japanese phrases, for some reason, years before... lol.  I think they understood my English better than my Japanese.

Finally, we made it to Kyushu.  The rest is a story for another day, but, for the sake of this post, I'll just say I was able to witness the 11th and final tournament victory of the first-ever non-Japanese and first American Yokozuna in the long history of Sumo.  My buddy is no longer with us, but I still have that memory of this very unlikely event.