Indonesia was treated to a sumo wrestling tournament -- the first ever staged in an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) country and in the Muslim world – in late August to mark 55 years of diplomatic ties between the two countries.
Vice President Boediono and Deputy Governor of Jakarta Basuki Tjahaja Purnama were among the spectators on the first day of the event at Jakarta's Istora Senayan stadium on August 24th and 25th. It was the first Sumo tournament outside Japan in five years.
"Indonesia is regarded [as] one of most friendly countries toward Japan," Tokyo-based company Gotanda Desnhi said in a statement announcing the tournament in April. "Also, this year is the memorial year for the 55th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic ties between [the] two countries."
A smaller audience of about 100 diplomats and students enjoyed a sumo wrestling demonstration at the ASEAN secretariat on August 23rd – this time honouring the 40th anniversary of ASEAN-Japan Friendship and Cooperation.
Sumo is "an apt symbol of the friendship between ASEAN and Japan," ASEAN Deputy Secretary General for Community and Corporate Affairs A.K.P.Mochtan said in his welcoming remarks. "Our relationship is strong because of our mutual respect for each other."
Two rikishi (wrestlers), known by their wrestlers' names Kaonishiki and Okinofuji, entered the makeshift circular ring, or dohyo, set up in the secretariat's main hall. Under the guidance of Stable Master Oyama, they demonstrated how a sumo match is conducted, as the audience watched eagerly.
"It is a reflection of Japanese culture and a way of life. The sumo has virtues of living, such as concentration, patience, politeness, fighting spirit, courtesy, sincerity and practicing tradition," Oyama explained.
The event was a first not only for Indonesia and ASEAN, but also for Japan. "This is the first time in history that we brought the sumo grand champions (to compete) outside of Japan," Japanese Ambassador to ASEAN Kimihiro Ishikane told reporters afterward.
This sort of cross-cultural exchange can help increase understanding among ASEAN countries, said Jim Maulana, who works in the economics department at the ASEAN Secretariat.
"Japan can bring its food and traditional sports here for diplomacy. I think ASEAN countries should do the other way around, too, considering we have many traditional sports as well," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Fatmawati Indah Purnamasari, a psychology student and part of the Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS), said she was thrilled to have the opportunity to see the sumo exhibition.
"Traditional arts such as wayang kulit (shadow puppet theatre) would be a good form of Indonesia's cultural diplomacy in Japan as well as in other ASEAN countries," she told Khabar.
Forty professional sumo wrestlers participated in the tournament. Mongolian rikishi Harumafuji, whose real name is Davaanyam Byambadorj, came out as the tournament's winner against Japanese sumo wrestler Kisenosato in the August 25th grand final.
The 29-year-old Harumafuji and his fellow Mongolian sumo wrestler Hakuho occupy sumo's top rank of yokozuna or grand champion.
Herman Taulani, an entrepreneur who watched both days of the tournament, said he thoroughly enjoyed the rare opportunity to see sumo wrestling.
"I hope we can have more of this kind of event more often here. Most people here don't know what sumo is all about, and having this event would help to increase understanding of this Japanese culture," Herman told Khabar.