Friday, June 1, 2007

Promoting sumo event mammoth undertaking By Ferd Lewis

His cell phone rings incessantly. His seventh floor office off Kapi'olani Blvd. is a beehive of activity. Shigemitsu Inohana surveys the scene, leans back in a chair and allows himself a hearty laugh. "I came to Hawai'i to get away from stress," he says between phone conversations, shaking his head. Six years after selling off most of his business interests and moving here for his health, the 57-year-old has his hands ・and hours ・full promoting the Hawai'i Grand Sumo Tournament.

The quickly approaching June 9-10 event at Blaisdell Arena will mark the sport's return here after a 14-year absence and Hakuho's debut as the 69th yokozuna in the centuries-old sport. It is also the furthest departure from the relaxed, laid-back retirement Inohana said brought him here originally. After running a magazine in Osaka and a satellite TV channel in Tokyo, Inohana said doctors told him in 2000 he needed to lighten his load. So, he reluctantly followed a friend to Maui for golf. Inohana said he liked the Valley Isle so much he told his wife and daughter they were moving. He sold his holdings, which friends say were worth millions of dollars, bought a residence in Wailea and began taking English courses at Maui Community College. Inohana said he met many students from Japan and began a business, Dormtech Hawai'i Inc., in Kihei to help supply visiting students with places to stay in Maui and Honolulu.

Meanwhile, he maintained ties with sumo, a sport he had followed since the late 1950s when Tochinishiki was a yokozuna and in which he had become a patron. "People told me I should try to bring sumo back to Hawai'i," Inohana said. "I thought that would be a good idea." Inohana sold the Japan Sumo Association on the plan and plunked down a six-figure rights fee, the beginning of what will be a nearly $2 million investment in the tournament.

He becomes the first individual to promote the sport here. Previously, back to the 1960s, other tournaments were run by the 442nd Veterans Club or, in 1993, a promotional group out of Japan. Most of them had, at least, a Hawai'i sumo figure ・Takamiyama, Konishiki, Akebono or Musashimaru ・to build a crowd around. But, for the first time since 1970, there are no sumotori from Hawai'i active in the sport.

Still, Inohana said more than half the tickets have been sold, including nearly all the highest-priced ones. "I'm hoping it will be a good show," he said. "I hope for good sumo ・and nobody gets hurt." Then, "I'm going back to Maui and relax for a while."

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