“For those About to Rock…”

This article was submitted by Old Country Athlete Destiny Itano. One world folks prounced long and slow STOOOOOOONNNEEEESSS…

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My dad’s family is from Japan, and there is a little bit of tangible heritage there: a house and a graveyard that have been in the family for hundreds of years. All the Itanos are buried in that graveyard. Both of my grandparents were U.S. citizens, born here, but my grandfather went back to Japan to die in 1959 and was buried in that graveyard, so when my grandmother died, my dad and I agreed that we would take her ashes back to Japan to be buried with her husband. Okay great, but why, you are probably wondering, am I reading this story?

Well, we went back to the Old Country, folks. How’d they do things in the Old Country? Strong, of course.

This was about 15 years ago. We were staying in the little town of Soja, Japan, where our cousins live. It’s a tiny place where you can walk down the road in your pajamas to get ramen at midnight, and where kids can leave their bikes at the grocery store for days without anything happening to them. Turns out it is also home to the Power Stone competition. We found out about it because my cousin’s husband was wearing a shirt with an angry looking rock on it. “What’s that?” we asked. “Ah! That is the Soja Power Stone!” he said. “He says, ‘I am the Soja Power Stone! If you think you can lift me, go ahead and try!’” Whaaat?

It turns out this competition has been going on in this town for centuries. In the Edo period of Japan, Sumo wrestlers used to lift stones for training and competition. In this town, stone lifting became part of life: it started out, not as a competition, but as a way to set a man’s pay. The town has a shipping industry, and back in the old days, they paid the stevedores according to what they could lift. So once a year, they would have all the men come to the shipyard and they would see who could hold this heavy stone the longest. The man who held the stone for the longest count set his wage for the year, and everybody else’s wage was set below that. That’s right: the strongest man was paid the most. That’s Old Country.

Fast forward – this way of setting wages is long gone, but in Soja, Japan, the stone lifting tradition continues. Every summer, they hold the Chikaraishi festival. In the Chikaraishi, there are 23 weighted stones that can be lifted so that anyone can participate; the weight of the stones ranges from 1.8kg up to the Yokozuna stone, which is 180kg. The stones are wrapped in traditional carrying straps: the lifting of the stone ends up being something like a deadlift crossed with a farmer’s carry. In order to qualify, contestants must hold the stone a minimum of 10cm off the ground for at least 10 seconds.

According to my cousin, pretty much everybody in the town participates – and the video I found seems to bear this out. Everyone from big dudes, to ladies in work clothes, to little kids in shorts or sundresses are picking up rocks!

Kazoyushi Kouzai is the current champion, having held the Yokozuna stone for 44.92 seconds; he’s won four times, and is trying for a fifth win this year. The female champion is Akemi Mitsuhata, who is apparently unstoppable, having won eight times so far. It seems like this test of strength even draws some regional competitors: I found pictures of the Okayama University Powerlifting Team’s trip down to this “contest of strength,” and the Japanese champion bodybuilder, Toshikazu Kataoka has traveled to Soja and won three times.

The competition is hundreds of years old. I’ve known about it for 15 years or so, but it wasn’t until I came to our gym that I found folks who I knew would appreciate this story. Truly Old Country Strong…

Article by: Destiny
Posted by: Z

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8 Responses to ““For those About to Rock…””

  1. That’s pretty effin awesome, Destiny. Asians are meant to lift heavy shit, clearly.

  2. Michelle B Says:

    that is the best story. Thanks for sharing it Destiny!. I agree with Jules, we are naturally better lifters than runners. Well that is my story and I am sticking to it.

  3. Bad ass! I remember Z telling me you had told him about it and then one day you and Steve were talkin to me about it… Was stoked when Z told me you had a write-up abt it
    This is awesome! So thanks for sharing it!

  4. What a great story! Thanks for sharing!!

  5. One ticket to Soja please.

  6. Great post, Destiny!
    I think you could start a partime business doing “Old Country” tours each summer for that comp. All the way down to midnight walks in pajamas for raman…. I know one Chan sister that’d be all over that. 😉
    And yes….asians were born to lift heavy shit.
    Thanks for sharing.

  7. I see an OCIC trek to Japan in the future… Thanks for the write-up!

  8. Buddha-Head Steve Says:

    Buddhahead POWER!!! Banzai muther F$%ker…

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