Sumo tegata occupies an intimate and unique place among sports memorabilia

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Yokozuna Hakuho’s sudden retirement sent shockwaves through the sumo world last month.

The legendary wrestler may have been away for most of the past two years, but his ability to continue to dominate the competition when participating in tournaments has ensured him an intimidating presence at the top of the rankings and presented a formidable psychological barrier. asset rikishi with ambitions of greatness.

Without Hakuho, the task of maintaining sumo’s natural order falls to the new yokozuna Terunofuji. The powerful veteran has shown he is up to the challenge by winning a fifth Emperor’s Cup in September, but with his 30th birthday just over a month away and a long history of injuries, it remains to be seen. how long the stable man from Isegahama can withstand his current level of performance.

Certainly, the brutal removal of the most dominant rikishi the sport has ever seen opens up all short-term title races as Terunofuji, for all his excellence, is just a wrestler, and the level drop below him. is important. The chances of seeing another wave of champions for the first time have increased with the departure of Hakuho.

Outside the ring, the yokozuna’s retirement has both immediate and long-term implications. For the Japan Sumo Association, the lack of headline rivalry should be of concern. Early reports from the upcoming November tournament in Fukuoka indicate that ticket sales for the event are proceeding extremely slowly, even taking into account the seat reductions imposed by COVID-19 and the historically low attendance figures for this particular location. .

Hakuho, of course, will play a role in trying to remedy the situation as he settles into recruiting and training future generations of stars.

The retirement of the yokozuna, however, introduces an additional consequence for the sumo community at large.

Autographed handprints (tegata) are the sport’s most distinctive and desirable form of souvenir. For fans and collectors alike, obtaining their favorite rikishi’s tegata can often be a complex process, but one that brings special rewards.

Handprints are a unique and authentic memory. Unlike, for example, home run balls in baseball, which the player in question may never have actually touched, or a felt-tip pen signature quickly scribbled on generic clothing in other sports, there is has an intimacy that comes with the imprint of every line in a man’s hand alongside his personal calligraphy on your wall.

In addition, the real handprints are never sold, but given to supporters and friends as a thank you. Rather than simple merchandise designed purely to raise funds for the athlete or team, the purpose of a tegata is to deepen the bond between rikishi and fans.

In sumo, tegata are normally not made until after promotion to the jūryō division, and it is common practice for wrestlers to stop doing them after retirement.

After a first batch is made during the sekitori, the frequency or number of handprints of a rikishi depends on the individual himself.

Invariably, when a popular or large yokozuna retires, the prices for their tegata on online auction sites skyrocket as production ceases but demand increases.

Fans who want to keep a piece of history also mean that retirements invariably lead to a sudden drop in the number of available handprints.

Even so, the prices of tegata – or even any genuine sumo item – are pale compared to those seen in other sports.

The most expensive sports memorabilia ever sold is the original copy of The Olympic Manifesto signed by Pierre de Coubertin, passed under the hammer in 2019 for nearly $ 9 million.

That, of course, was an extreme case for something that has no parallel, but many articles from the early days of baseball have reported seven-figure sums over the years.

These awards are normally for items associated with Babe Ruth – an almost mythical figure in the sport.

Sumo also has legendary champions from centuries past, but their memories can be acquired for much less.

Babe Ruth’s jerseys, sticks, rings and signed contracts have sold for millions of dollars, while a keshō-mawashi (an ornate apron-style belt) worn by 32-time champion yokozuna Taiho has gone unsold online for months at a price of just $ 4,700.

Even among contemporary legends, the price disparity between sumo and North American sporting paraphernalia is striking. Hakuho’s Tegata or recent yokozuna can be acquired for less than a twentieth the price of those created for merchandising companies by basketball players Michael Jordan and LeBron James.

As with the Super Bowl or other championship rings, rare and special items of Japanese national sport also hit the open market on occasion, but in almost all cases the price listed is a fraction of what it is. would be in the United States.

Sumo offers a wide range of merchandise, from posters and t-shirts to rikishi branded curries and other food products. Over the past five to six years in particular, the range of items available has grown steadily as the commodity market has matured.

The sumo collectible card market, like its contemporaries in other sports, has seen price increases throughout the pandemic, with fans finding themselves at home with more time to devote to their collections.

Tegata, however, still has a unique meaning for most fans. Besides being a tangible connection to the past, autographed handprints allow the kind of intimate connection with athletes not often found in other sports – and at a price that puts them within reach. ordinary fans.

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