“Losers” have been equally respected as “Winners” in Japan

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The drawing of the first recorded Sumo wrestling match by Nomi no Sukune and Taima no Kehaya.

There are lots of uniquely Japanese customs and practices that surprise people from other cultures. One of them may be the fact that the Japanese people have loved and paid respect to those who publicly recognized as “losers” along with the “winners.”  From the ancient time, people were not just judged by the result.

An excellent example of this is the fact that the man who lost Japan’s first official recorded Sumo wrestling match is still loved and respected in Japan after 2000 years. His name was Taima no Kehaya (Taemak Ehaya) who excelled in kicking technique.

The first Sumo wrestling match in Japan was inspired by Emperor Nintoku who reigned BC97 to BC30.  Nomi no Sukune who was originally from Izumo region and Taima no Kehaya fought in front of the Emperor.  According to the ancient Japanese history publication “Kojiki,” Nomi no Sukune is the 14th descendant of Amenohohi who was the second son of Amaterasu (Amaterasu Omikami) .  Kehaya is said to have broken his back because of this match and lost.  Nomi no Sukune was given the land Kehaya owned as a result.  The land is still called Taima town in Nara.

Nomi no Sukune is still revered and respected at numerous shrines in Japan as the originator of Sumo wrestling.   However,  this part is uniquely Japanese phenomena.   Kehaya who lost the match has been even more loved and respected by the people of Japan.  Kehaya is revered and respected at the Sumo shrine along with Nomi no Sukune.  The winner and the loser have been respected at the same location.

The Sumo stadium in the town of Taima in Nara is has been called “Kehaya-za” after Taima no Kehaya.  “Kehaya-zuka,” the mound (tomb) of Kehaya is still preserved in Nara.  Even if he lost quite publicly, he was never disgraced and people continued to loved and respect him.

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Kehayazuka, the tomb of Taima no Kehaya in Nara, Japan

At the site of the ancient “Kehaya-zuka (Kehaya mound),”  it says the following;

The winners are not necessarily always superior.
One may become a loser by chance or the lack of fortune.

It’s good to give applause to the winners.
However, the losers also deserve a drop of our tears.

Words engraved in Kehaya-zuka, the tomb of Taima no Kehaya

勝者、かならずしも優ならず。
ときには勝機や時運に恵まれず
敗者とな ることもある。

勝者に拍手をおくるのはよい、
だが敗者にもいっきくの涙を
そそぐべきではないか。

It has been said in the Western world, “History is written by the winners” as Winston Churchill has said “History is written by the victors” and Dan Brown also said “History is always written by the winners.”

True. But not in Japan.

It has been the tradition to honor both parties after conflicts or battles. People did not believe in just deleting the existence of the parties who have lost.  The fact that the Japanese people preserved the names, graves and shrines in honor of people who were “losers” show the Japanese mentality of “wa” or unity.  It is based on the Japanese philosophy that both the losers and the winners are 2 sides of coins.  Without remembering the other side of the story, you will never retain the whole story.

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