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Brace yourselves for the latest attempt to beef up tourism from the Far East. Twelve top-tier Japanese sumo wrestlers will rumble into Israel next month to pound home the virtues of strengthened cultural relations.
The heavyweight campaign marks the first time that members of the Sadogatake Stable, as the team is called, have sent a delegation overseas. They will perform sumo as well as sightsee, according to the visit's coordinators.
During the "Peace and Love to Israel" trip, which gets off the ground on June 3, the wrestlers, accompanied by a group of 18 coaches and managers, are to tour holy sites in Jerusalem and to prove that weight is no obstacle to floating in the Dead Sea. On June 6, they are to conduct a public training session on the Tel Aviv beach.
The following day, the men will perform sumo at the amphitheater in Caesarea. The performance will also include training and sumo hairstyling demonstrations.
"The visit is part of our marketing strategy," said Tourism Minister Isaac Herzog, "designed to realize the potential of tourism from the Far East, specifically Japan."
Herzog added that 15,000 tourists were expected from Japan in 2006, as compared to the 8,400 who visited last year.
Sumo wrestling, which has been around for more than 2,000 years, is the national sport of Japan. A sumo match consists of 15 rounds, each lasting only a few seconds. The first wrestler to either touch the ground outside of the designated circle or to touch the ground with any body part other than his feet loses the round. The wrestler who wins the most rounds is the winner of the match.
Kotooshu, 22, a member of the delegation, is ranked third in the top league in Japan and has the title of Ozeki, the second-highest designation a wrestler can attain.
"Kotooshu is known in Japan as the David Beckham of sumo," said Moti Dichne, who grew up in Japan and is now the secretary of the Israeli Sumo Association. "He is on the cover of all of the magazines in Japan and people follow him very closely."
Two of the other members of the delegation, Kotomitsuki, 29, and Kotoshogiku, 21, are ranked eighth and 12th, respectively, in Japan.
The wrestlers weigh about 150 kilograms each and will each occupy three seats on the flight to Israel.
"They eat a lot of rice and they drink a lot of beer," said Dichne, who traveled last week to Japan to meet with the delegation. Otherwise, they're easygoing in terms of what they consume, Dichne added.
"They're very much looking forward to coming," Dichne said. "For them, anything overseas is exciting, and they're really excited about wrestling in the 2,000-year-old amphitheater. This is all very exotic for them."
Dichne anticipates that the visit will be hugely successful in increasing tourism because "the Japanese like to go where other Japanese have been," adding that the event is certain to be covered closely by Japanese media because of the high-profile status of the wrestlers. "It will be a huge tourism bonanza, for sure."
Israel has a sumo league of its own, comprised of more than 300 participants around the country from 10 to 40 years old. The Israeli Amateur Sumo Open will take place on June 10, the day after the Japanese stars head home.