Japan's sumo wrestlers put on a big show yesterday in Taipei and fittingly the highest-ranked rikishi Asashoryu Akinori came out on top.
The Mongolian was quicker and stronger than his opponents and in the final bout with Hakuhou Shou he showed his class by initially slapping and grabbing, then ended the fight with leg sweeps and a battle for balance on one leg, which he narrowly won.
It was a disappointment for Shou, who is also from Mongolia, as he has been training hard in his quest for promotion to the rank of yokozuna, or champion, after just failing to make the cut despite impressive results at recent tournaments.
Akinori, who is currently sumo's only yokozuna, said after his victory at the Taipei Arena he was naturally happy but tired after traveling from Japan three days previously, sightseeing and winning five fights.
Nevertheless, he told the Taipei Times in Chinese, he would be ready to fight again today.
He said his preparation for the bout had been good and he enjoyed the bowls of spicy noodles that were cooked up specially for him.
The 100-strong delegation from the Japan Sumo Association has been staying at the Sheraton Taipei. Chinese-language newspaper reports said extra-large beds big enough for four people, and super-sized cups and slippers were specially ordered for the 42 wrestlers.
It is the first time since World War II that a Japanese sumo wrestling team has visited Taiwan. Japan occupied Taiwan for 50 years from 1895.
The sporting visit is being viewed as the first major cultural exchange between Taiwan and Japan since 1972, when Japan switched diplomatic recognition to China.
To underscore the importance of the event, political heavyweights Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) were ringside yesterday.
They were treated to a spectacle as around 9,000 fight fans paying up to NT$4,000 for a ticket filled the Arena to the brim.
Aboriginal kids from Hualien were first up into the ring for "bouts" against their fight idols from Japan and then there was a long-winded introduction to the history and culture of sumo.
The competition itself also got off to a slow start with 10 matches in the first round that featured the smaller and less impressive wrestlers.
The crowd was polite and muted, but all this changed in the second round when Akinori made his entrance and started throwing his weight around.
As the basho progressed, the atmosphere became more charged and the wrestlers responded by exerting themselves with slaps, vicious pushes and vigorous lifts.
Up close you could feel the ground tremble as the wrestlers clashed and sweat flew across the ring.
A total of 41 fights took around two-and-a-half hours and Akinori's deserved victory earned him NT$200,000 and flight tickets. Not bad for an afternoon's work.
Outside the Arena after the contest, fight fan Ho Huan-jiang said he was glad to have watched the basho, but said the fights he regularly watched on TV appeared to be more competitive.
Nevertheless, he added, he was thinking of going again today even though he thought the tickets were "quite expensive."