Osunaarashi makes history in Japan’s hallowed sport of sumo as the first Muslim-Egyptian-Arab-African wrestler.
Sumo wrestler Osunaarashi was a large, muscular Egyptian teenager with a passion for bodybuilding when a friend recommended he try the ancient Japanese sport of sumo. But it was a hard sell. “This sport is about two elephants pushing each other,” he recalls his initial thoughts about the sport. “I’m a bodybuilder, man. It looked so ugly for me and I thought I would never do it.”
Now Osunaarashi, 22, is the first Egyptian, first African, first Arab and first Muslim to muscle his way into sumo’s professional ranks, so proud of his heritage that he observed the Ramadan fast during a just-ended tournament. This meant neither eating nor drinking from 3am to 7pm, despite grappling with wrestlers whose weight average about 150kg in temperatures up to 33℃.
“The food was not a problem. But water was. It was the hardest part,” says Osunaarashi in a rare interview at his lively sumo “stable”, as the wrestlers’ gym and residence is called, just outside the central city of Nagoya. “Without Ramadan, I just have a small headache after the fight. But in Ramadan, in this tournament, every day I have a really strong headache that I never had before,” he says.
Bulking up is one of the principles of sumo. To do this, wrestlers down mammoth, protein-laden meals, often followed by naps. But Osunaarashi, whose sumo name means “Giant Sandstorm,” had to forego this during Ramadan, trimming some 5kg from his 156kg, 1.88m frame.
“You just have to do it,” he says, as younger wrestlers make lunch and sing along to a TV programme. As is customary while relaxing, many wear only underwear – patterned boxer shorts – though Osunaarashi wears a green yukata, an informal kimono.