Jennifer Griffith’s newest novel, Big in Japan, tells the story of Buck Cooper, a Texas gentleman with a heart as large his home state and a body and self-esteem problem to match. What starts as a supporting role in a family business trip to Tokyo ends with Buck staying in Japan training to be a sumo wrestler as the kohai to the Kawaguchi Stable’s star ozeki, Torakiba. Torakiba is the senpai from hell, subjecting Buck as his kohai to humiliating tasks including foot washing and warm watermelon spit. There’s also a love interest, Cho-cho san, who like the butterfly she’s named for flits in and out of Buck’s life, motivating him to prove to himself and the sumo world that he’s got what it takes.
Buck may be big in Japan, but in Hawaii sumo is huge. The first foreign-born non-Japanese sumo champion was Jesse Kuhaulua, fighting name Takamiyama Daigoro. He was born on Maui and his career spanned twenty years from 1964-1984. Growing up in Kahului, we all knew Jesse and followed his career avidly. When he came home to visit family, the whole town came out to greet him. I can still see him in his traditional Japanese attire as he majestically strolled across our school’s parking lot, smiling and waving at us as we peeked out from behind the monkey pod tree. Other Hawaiian-born sekitori followed including Konishiki who earned the rank of ozeki, Akebono who earned the grand champion rank of yokozuna, and my cousin William Tyler Hopkins, fighting name Sunahama Shoji, who earned the rank of juryo 5 before retiring in 1997 at age 25 due to injury.
Since I knew a little about sumo and what it takes to succeed in Japan as a foreign-born wrestler, I was intrigued by Griffith’s premise. While Big in Japan does touch on some of the modern criticisms and controversies in sumo wrestling, at its heart it’s a love story with coming of age themes told with a humorous, light touch. It’s Buck’s story of leaving home in order to find his true self. Westerners will get a taste of some of the cultural differences and an idea of what it takes to be a sumo wrestler, but it’s Buck’s inner and outer transformation combined with his hilarious inner monologue that’s the draw here. Griffith sometimes compares her books to cotton candy—something sweet, light, frothy, enjoyed, and gone, but I think this novel has more weight behind it, more like a makizushi meal than a simple sweet treat.
Big in Japan, written by Jennifer Griffith and published by Jolly Fish Press is available in hardback, trade paperback, and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other purveyors of fine literature.
Griffith’s blog can be found at: http://www.authorjennifergriffith.com/
For more information about Jolly Fish Press and its titles, please visit: http://www.jollyfishpress.com/