EP192: Sumo21

By Daniel Braum.
Read by Stephen Eley.

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“Oh great Emperor,” the gyoji said, continuing the ritual. “These two
honorable warriors can not agree who will step aside, and who will
join the sacred battle to return you to us. We would gladly send all
our sons, but the Council of Infinite Japans says there may be only
twenty-one. So now they must fight to decide.”

“May the best warrior join the fight,” the crowd answered in unison
with the gyoji.

The gyoji stepped back. Asashoryu stared into Takanasuro’s
expressionless brown eyes. The match would begin upon a tacit
agreement between them. He kept Takanasuro’s mid section in his field
of vision while focusing on keeping his own face blank. He knew the
beginner’s lesson as if it were part of him; faces deceive and betray,
but all movement starts at the hips.

Rated PG. Contains death, betrayal, hauntings, and a challenging amount of Japanese.

Comments (23)

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  1. Rachel says:

    On pronunciation: The r/l Steve Eley used is right on!! Most People don’t get that, even when they have learned Japanese. So thumbs up on that. On shorter words the vowels were pretty much right on. The longer phrases were off, but I take that as forgetting where the breaks and emphasis is on longer phrase.

    On Japanese used: Japanese has no plurals. So it’s Geisha singular and plural (but that’s really nitpicking.) And I believe it’s Tanoshikute kudasai. 楽しくて下さい

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_verb_conjugations#Te_form (Under the i form of adjectives.)

    Tanoshii (fun) kute makes it a verb (Imperative form) and the kudasai makes it respectful and a request, though theoretically since they are your listeners of a long time you could assume informal form… but in Japan, I think that’s frown upon.

    In Korean “Have fun” would be “Chemijuseyo” (polite form–I know it should be in differential form for radio, but I can’t remember that one off the top of my head since those are often different words.) or 체미주세요 (in hangeul). My French is too rusty to trust it for imperative form… (Other listeners can add to it. I think it would be fun…)

    On the story: I really liked it. I thought it was a good show of culture and not that cultural amalgamation where people are following a popular trend of Japan without understanding the culture. (i.e. Asiophilia furthering asiophilia, stereotypes, and the “Hey isn’t this neat” look) I admit, I was looking for a slip up in culture the entire time even down to the psychology of Japan after World War II (From a previous Japanese class), or a myth that was wrong and I could find no problems! The use of the hotaru (fireflies) was correct. The symbology of the sakura (Often associating with fleeting beauty and death) and the butterflies (Souls and death) was also correct. In another words, it wasn’t just stuck in there just because it needed to look Japanese, but was used as Japanese would use them–I’m thoroughly impressed. I’m also impressed that they managed to take such folklore and press it into a science fiction piece that was plausible. I felt that even the story structure had a Japanese mentality that was not solely based on Anime watching. (Ah-nee-meh (Short ee) for those geeks that care… no s for the plural) So props to the author for doing research and getting it right! I’m entirely grateful.

    I also liked Steve Eley’s reading of the story. The pronunciation is better than most podcasts I’ve heard, so I don’t think it’s that bad. (I have about 2.5 years of Japanese and passed for an OL in Kyoto… ^_^ The taxi driver there really thought I was in a rush to get to a meeting… I’m pronunciation sensitive and Steve Eley did a fine job, especially on the names.)

    To other commenters: Anyone have “have Fun” in other languages than Japanese and Korean? ^_^

  2. Rachel says:

    Amendment: >.<;; Looks like I picked up Japanese grammar while listening to the story. Ignore the grammar errors of the previous post. –;; I swear I know English…

  3. Lexicat says:

    yo podners,

    i am right there with steve as regards the where are the not japans? and appreciate the u.s.a.-centrism of so much sci-fi (of course aliens would land in the center of one of the smaller continents, right?). and let’s not even get started on english-centrism (stargate franchise anyone?).

    i really liked the creativity in this story&133; lots of colorful elements making a butterfly explosion, without it turning into a garish iAdvert campaign.

    the male-centrism… i suppose that’s traditional in sumo, not so much to my tastes, and i was left wondering why not 3, 4 or 5-hundred pound women wrestling warriors. or is big only acceptable for men?


  4. Grumpy says:

    I kept waiting for the twist that “Infinite Japans” was an immersive MMO virtual reality game and that Asashoryu’s devotion to it was a form of escape from the waking world. (WoW addiction, anyone?)

    In retrospect, I liked the actual ending quite a bit more.

  5. Ray says:

    I don’t usually enjoy fiction that dwells, to even a small degree, on Eastern-style philosophy or metaphor, but this one really, really worked for me. It struck a balance between concision and inscrutability; I felt a sense of wonder without having to slog through a swamp of cultural divide.

    Excellent narration too, Steve. I was unaware of your history in Japan, but it clearly paid dividends here.

  6. L33tminion says:

    夢を見るとき、夢を見るのは分かっています。 “Yume o miru toki, yume o miru no ga wakatteimasu.”

    (I think, anyways, I’m still not positive I got that last verb right, although I suppose the last kanji could be 判 or 別.)

  7. Bookman 12pt says:

    Suspension of disbelief…bah! The story was phenomenal. It overcame all obstacles.

  8. sebastian y. says:

    Having been living in Japan for about seven months now, (I’m getting my master’s degree in architecture) this story struck me as very interesting. Even though I cringe a little at the americanized pronunciation that is probably nearly impossible to get rid of (the arigatouu sound instead of the sharp arigato) the subject matter was close to home.

    I’m not from the U.S. (I don’t call it America) but from a little further south, Chile as a matter of fact. Stragely spanish shares a lot of the pronunciation with japaneseso I have seen many U.S. o Canadian born classmates strugguling with the pronunciation.
    I hope to hear more Japanese (or japanese themed) Sci-fi, it brin

  9. scatterbrain says:

    Transdimensional Japans fighting perpetual wars with sumo wrestlers?

    I said it once, and I’ll say it again, Escape Pod just keeps getting better and better!

    In fact, this got me thinking: why don’t we have a poll to see what are everybody’s favourite Escape Pod stories?

  10. JeremyT says:

    Hi Scatterbrain,

    I’m the new managing editor working with Steve Eley here at Escape Pod. Hello to everyone here in the comments!

    I think a reader’s poll is a good idea, and it’s something I will try and organize in the future. I also think it might be fun to handicap the hugos after we’ve played all the hugo nominees and see how Escape Pod’s audience is at predicting the winner.

    You’ll be seeing other little changes here and there in the usability of the site as I ramp up my involvement. If anyone has suggestions, I’m open to hearing them at editor@escapepod.org

  11. Max says:

    Meh… I’m getting a bit tired of superheroes and sports.

  12. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    So if it’s acceptable to imagine yourself up a dragon or a tiger or something, how come the protagonist didn’t just think himself up an uzi or a flamethrower or something and blow his opponent away.

    I could imagine this story as an anime–and that’s NOT a good thing! All the characters would have enormous round eyes and spikey hair and all the battles would be fought with seizure-inducing backgrounds of rapidly changing colors.

  13. Niall Mor says:

    Konichi-wa! (That’s about the only Japanese I know, so I apologize to anyone more knowledgeable than I if I used the phrase incorrectly). Anyway, excellent story! It would have been just as welcome (if not more so) on Podcastle, as it occupies something of a borderland between fantasy and science fiction. It was refreshing to hear a science fiction story with a Japanese theme that didn’t involve toy tanks, plywood buildings, and guys in rubber monster suits 🙂

    Howie, I think transmuting oneself into an Uzi or a flamethrower as opposed to a dragon or panda would be very dishonorable and un-Japanese. Besides, both an Uzi and a flamethrower require an operator as well as the weapon itself. Is it possible to be both the operator and the weapon at the same time? (Hmm, that sounds like a koan, doesn’t it?)

    I also disagree with the idea that an anime version of this story would be a bad thing. I’ll bet Hayao Miyazaki could do a great job with this story. His Princess Mononoke draws extensively on Japanese history and mythology and is visually beautiful. I can imagine this story done in a similar style.

  14. infinite says:

    Am I the only person annoyed when someone says “infinite” to mean instead “infinitely many”?

  15. Martin R says:

    I kept thinking that sumo21 and geisha73 sound a lot like handles on a dating site.

  16. steve potter says:

    hi everybody,

    and thanks to steve again for his continued hard work, really appreciate it!!

    I didnt like this story but, I have been living in Japan and have a Japanese wife; and I thought the story was maybe a good idea for one of those crazy anime that most westerners get into.

    to comment slightly on Niall Mor who said it would make a good Miyazaki work; I gotta shoot that one down and say I greatly doubt it cause actually in Japan most Japanese consider studio Ghibli a kind of thing young girls like so … yeah .. I doubt it.

  17. Rachel says:

    ^^;; It’s Kon’nichiwa. (こんにちは 「今日は」)Just saying…

    Miyazaki is retiring, BTW (he’s been trying to do it for years now. =P), and most of his themes are about nature v. machines and the incoming of technology. This didn’t have that theme. He also tends to like children as a central theme. Not all of his anime were aimed at girls though… I don’t really think it would work as an anime though… there are conventions in this that usually don’t show up in anime. (But this would be a study of culture…) The general idea probably could be anime, but the story itself feels more like something that Japanese would put into a drama story instead. (The humanistic aspect is very akin to Japanese dramas.) But then I’m pulling out my geekdom again…

    Revision of the previous poster. toki refers to time… so I used the kanji. and there is no i after the te… because it’s a conjugation into the “te” form. The masu makes it formal. tei rhymes with ray as in ray of sunshine not te which rhymes with get. Though you’re correct on the 3 kanji… and for that reason some people just write it in hiragana instead. (For example in shoujo in particular they forgo the kanji and write it in hiragana, but that’s kind of a girly thing to do.)

    Just want to make sure the language is being represented correctly.

  18. steve potter says:

    Hi Rachel

    wow you really know the language so I might be the newly converted argueing with the pope !

    but I agree with what you have said.

    cheers !!

  19. heyes says:

    Very compelling story in a wonderful setting! I pictured the sleeping world in the cell-shaded style of the game Okami.

  20. Adam K says:

    Long time reader, first timer here.

    I’ve listened twice to SUMO21 now, and I still don’t feel the “wonder”. The story lacked obvious direction and a held a few too many descriptive phases. Perhaps, as an Irishman, with little real exposure to the Japanese culture, I didn’t grokk the subtle movements of the story, but I felt that the story was below the usual provocative 30 odd minutes we’ve come to expect.

  21. Blaine Boy says:

    A beautiful story. If I didn’t know any better (and I don’t) it seemed as though Daniel Braum really knew the culture and immersed his story in it. It made me wish I could travel to Japan and hear some folk stories (I’ve actually been hoping to do that for a long time). Overall, great story, great to hear from you guys again.

    The Blaine Boy