Sumo Wrestling Commentator Doreen Simmons Dies At 85

May 16, 2018
Originally published on May 16, 2018 8:06 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to take a couple minutes to remember a woman who was called the godmother of sumo wrestling.

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DOREEN SIMMONS: What advice can I give to people who want to learn about sumo like I started learning 40 years ago?

SHAPIRO: Doreen Simmons had a very specific answer for how to become a great sumo commentator.

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SIMMONS: Go early in the day. Watch the beginners, teenage wrestlers. There are hardly any other people watching, so you can see everything clearly. And try to find someone who can answer your questions.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's from a TED Talk Doreen Simmons gave in Japan a couple of years ago. She was born in England and fell in love with sumo when she moved to Japan to teach in the early 1970s.

SHAPIRO: She immersed herself in the sport, attending matches whenever she could. Her expertise led to writing about sumo. And eventually, she was hired by Japan's national broadcaster, NHK.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And to help us guide us through is sumo commentator Doreen Simmons. Delighted to have you, Doreen.

SIMMONS: Pleasure to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You are from the UK.

SIMMONS: Yeah. Nottingham.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And you have been commentating on NHK's sumo broadcasts for more than 20 years. Am I correct?

SIMMONS: A little more than 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A little more (laughter).

SIMMONS: (Laughter) Yeah.

CORNISH: For people who knew Simmons, they weren't surprised.

WILLIAM BULSON: I was struck right away by her many varied interests.

CORNISH: Father William Bulson is rector of St. Alban's Anglican Episcopal Church in Tokyo, where Doreen Simmons was a member.

BULSON: She had such a nimble mind and a curiosity of mind and heart. So if you were to visit her apartment, well, you would see bookshelves lined with all kinds of things - of course things about sumo. You would see books on various languages and so on, including the classics, Latin and Greek. She studied Classics at Cambridge.

SHAPIRO: Last year, Doreen Simmons was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun. That's Japan's highest honor for non-royalty and non-politicians. Her passion for sumo was so intense she could inspire others just talking about it.

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SIMMONS: The thing about sumo is that it's so simple, the first time you see it, you can understand what's going on, almost always. And yet, when you really start learning about it, there's so much extra.

CORNISH: Including many traditions and rituals, and she knew about all of them.

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SIMMONS: I took up sumo watching just like I did cricket, taking notes with my own homemade scorecard - oh, and learning Japanese frantically.

SHAPIRO: Doreen Simmons died late last month at the age of 85. A public memorial service is planned for her on June 2 in Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.