Gaijin Yokozuna: Paperback Book

Gaijin Yokozuna: Paperback Book



Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan (A Latitude 20 Book) Paperback – Illustrated, May 31, 2006 by Mark Panek

Gaijin Yokozuna: A Biography of Chad Rowan (A Latitude 20 Book)


At the age of eighteen, Chad Rowan left his home in rural Hawai'i for Tokyo with visions of becoming a star athlete in Japan's national sport, sumo. But upon his arrival he was shocked less by the city crowds and the winter cold than by having to scrub toilets and answer to fifteen-year-olds who had preceded him at the sumo beya. Rowan spoke no Japanese. Of Japanese culture, he knew only what little his father, a former tour bus driver in Hawai'i, had been able to tell him as they drove to the airport. And he had never before set foot in a sumo ring.

Five years later, against the backdrop of rising U.S.–Japan economic tension, Rowan became the first gaijin (non-Japanese) to advance to sumo's top rank, yokozuna. His historic promotion was more a cultural accomplishment than an athletic one, since yokozuna are expected to embody highly prized Japanese values such as hard work, patience, strength, and hinkaku, a special kind of dignity thought to be available only to Japanese. He was promoted ahead of his two main rivals, the brothers Koji and Masaru Hanada, who had been raised in the sumo beya run by their father, the former sumo great Takanohana I. Perhaps the defining moment of the gaijin's unique success occurred at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, when Rowan, chosen to personify "Japanese" to one of the largest television audiences in history, performed a sacred sumo ritual at the opening ceremony.

Gaijin Yokozuna chronicles the events leading to that improbable scene at Nagano and beyond, tracing Rowan's life from his Hawai'i upbringing to his 2001 retirement ceremony. Along the way it briefly examines the careers of two Hawai'i-born sumotori who paved the way for Rowan, Jesse Kuhaulua (Takamiyama) and Salevaa Atisanoe (Konishiki). The author shares stories from family members, coaches, friends, fellow sumo competitors, and of course Rowan himself, whom he accompanied on three Japan-wide exhibition tours. The work is further informed by volumes of secondary source material on sumo, Japanese culture, and local Hawai'i culture.

"Panek got as close to Akebono as anyone from the outside could without actually joining his stable, family, or entourage.  He also interviewed many people around Akebono, both in his native Hawai'i and in Japan, while deeply researching sumo as a way of life, as well as a professional sport and cultural touchstone....'Gaijin Yokozuna' is the best sumo biography in English, and few books in English or Japanese can match it in bringing sumo--and one sumotori--to vivid, compulsively readable life."---The Japan Times.

"Panek has created a hybrid that is part sociological study, part memoir, and part examination of the sumo world. Panek, a sympathetic critic of this last subject, writes extremely well of Akebono's struggles to adapt his completely unsuitable body to the ring....But what takes Gaijin Yokozuna above the standard sports biography is Panek's argument that Akebono's success was not only in winning bouts, but also in acting assimilated when he had to."--The
 Daily Yomiuri

"Panek presents an intriguing study of Rowan as a outsider whose deft cultural performances evoked the Japanese identity so central to sumo's ages-old identity....The human subject of 'Gaijin Yokozuna' is never in doubt, yet Panek added a different level of meaning by interweaving his own experiences as a gaijin in Japan and a biographer grappling with practical, theoretical and ethical challenges....To Randy Rowan, the sumotori's brother, Panek found just the right touch....'It was like Mark wen' sit down with bradda and just talk story.'"--The
 Honolulu Advertiser

"Panek tells this story masterfully, tracing and retracing his research footsteps, through oral histories with everyone from Akebono's imprisoned brother (the one whom stable owner Jesse Kuhaulua really wanted to draft) to his drinking buddies in Japan, through grueling weeks on jungyo (exhibition tours), through tournaments and press conferences, through official appearances for wealthy patrons and very unofficial parties with the champion's 'ukulele-strumming homies, through stories that have become legend."---The
 Honolulu Advertiser

From the Author

For Janice Rowan

About the Author

Mark Panek was born in New York City.  A graduate of Colby College, he has traveled widely, having lived in Maine, New York, Sydney, Honolulu, and Tokyo.  He was recently named the 2012 winner of the Elliot Cades Award for Literature.  He is also the author of the acclaimed Big Happiness and the recent Hawai'i: a novel.


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ University of Hawaii Press; Illustrated edition (May 31, 2006)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 320 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0824830431
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0824830434
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.14 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.66 x 9 inches