Gaijinks

Dear Dad,

Greetings from Kyoto! Tell Grandpa that even though he’s been here (just after the war), things have changed a lot since then. For example, there’s lots of smog, and they have beer in vending machines.

Anyway, I know you wanted me to let you know when I got here safe. You didn’t say that you wanted me to write, but I know you did just the same. I did a lot of thinking on the plane trip over here — it’s a 16-hour flight, and I forgot to bring anything to read — and I realized that your silence, your lack of communication, and your low-key hostility towards me is just a mask to hide your real feelings. People of your generation were raised to suppress their emotions, or to disguise them as contempt. People of my generation, though, are freer and more honest about the way we feel, and that’s why I’m telling you: I love you, and I’m going to make you proud.

I know that the career I’m about to embark on wasn’t your first, second or third choice for me, but I’ve accepted the fact that I don’t want to be a fireman, a police officer or an architect, and so should you. I’m guessing this wasn’t your fourth or fifth choice either, but usually once you got past architect your face got red and you started to cut all your words short. (I hope you’re still taking your blood pressure medicine –do it for yourself, and all the loved ones in your life!) I know that once you realized that I was determined to pursue the life of a professional athlete, you tried to direct me towards baseball, football and hockey, only to be frustrated by my inability to throw, my unwillingness to run, and my childhood fear of ice. But I was determined — and I am still determined — to see my dream of making in the world of big-time sports come true.

Now, I know what you’re saying. We’ve had this conversation again and again, in many different locations, over the computer, in person, at bars, via the US postal service, and on the phone at a variety of different volumes, and in various degrees of sobriety. But Dad, despite your constant naysaying and your misguided attempts to streer me away from what I really want to do, I am going to make it as a professional sumo wrestler.

You don’t understand or appreciate the sport, and that’s fine. You don’t have to appreciate it any more than I have to appreciate bricklaying or accounting or whatever it is you and mom do. You don’t think it’s a real sport, even though I’ve proven to you time and again it is. You don’t understand the rules, even if I explain them to you in English. You complain because it’s only televised on ESPN News. I’ve heard all your arguments before. But whatever you think, it’s big here in Japan — it ranks behind only baseball, judo, soccer, competitive eating, and motocross. The greatest champions are able to command tens of thousands dollars in endorsement fees; that’s Woody Allen money.

Of course, you don’t think I’m going to be a great champion. You don’t think I’ll be able to make my dream come true. I’ve heard all your arguments and put-downs time and time again, and it’s a testament to how much I believe in myself that I’ve been able to get this far despite all your negativity. It continues to amaze me that you can both know so little about this ancient, graceful eternal sport and be so damn sure that I’m going to fail at it. (Forgive my language, but I’ve been told that there is no swearing in Japanese, so I’m trying to get it all out of my system ahead of time.) You laughed at me and swore that I’d never make it. Well, they laughed at Doug Flutie when he said he could win the Super Bowl. They laughed at Babe Ruth and said he was too fat to hit seven thousand home runs. And they laughed at Seabiscuit when he told them he could win the Kentucky Derby. And just like them, I intend to prove you — and “them” — wrong.

I’ve been studying this list of words I wrote down watching the basho (that means “tournaments”) on TV. I did really well when I dressed up in the fat suits and did that simulation like in Charlie’s Angels at the fun center, and I think that’s a good indicator of how I’ll do against real competition. And most of all, despite all the people who say 138 pounds is too light to make it in the heavyweight world of sumo wrestling, I’ve been eating as much as my job as a caddy at the Kyoto Nikkei Rooftop Golf Resort will allow me to afford, and I have every reason to believe that I can put on the necessary 300-400 pounds by the time of my first tournament at the end of this month. I believe I can do it. And some day you’ll believe it too.

Anyway, I gotta go. I’m making lots of friends here already and tonight the guys are going to take me out to Benihana, which is an authentic local restaurant. I think my roommates really like me — I still don’t speak the language that well, but they’re always pointing at me and laughing. I’ll send you another letter tomorrow night; I need to get home early, or else Inori grabs the top bunk.

Love,

Ira

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