Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Akebono Statue, Waikiki

Next up we've got a rare semi-topical post: I was over in Honolulu again recently and noticed an enormous (and also exactly life-sized) statue of the legendary sumo wrestler Akebono Tarō that I didn't recall seeing before. So I took a few photos and continued on my way. Shortly after flying back, it was announced that he had passed away at age 54, after several years of health problems. So this post is relevant to a news headline you might have seen recently, for once.

There's a statue of him in Hawaii because he was born here, and grew up over in Waimanalo, a little farm town over on the windward side of Oʻahu. He became fascinated by the sport and eventually moved to Japan to seek his fortune as a wrestler, adopting the stage name "Akebono". In 1993 he became the first non-Japanese wrestler to achieve the rank of yokozuna, the very highest grand champion rank in the sport, making him just the 64th yokozuna since the beginning of (surviving) written records back in the 1640s. This was good for about 15 minutes of fame on the US mainland, a degree of minor celebrity in Hawaii, and of course fame and a great deal of curiosity in Japan. After retiring in 2001, he tried his hand at kickboxing and MMA before ending up in pro wrestling until old injuries and ill health caught up to him in the late 2010s. And if you think I'm going into more detail than usual, let me warn you about the perils of sumo Wikipedia. Which is a serious rabbit hole, dug by an improbably large rabbit.

As for the statue, it was created by local artist Barbara Kamille (a.k.a. "KaMille"), obviously sometime after 1993 (but I don't know when exactly), and was originally located at a Waimanalo mini-mall. It was either knocked over or fell over on its own once in 2016 but was quickly repaired, though some damage is still visible on his right foot if you look closely. Then the store it sat in front of closed in 2022, and the owners put the word out that it needed a new home ASAP. The owner of Sam's Kitchen, a Waikiki seafood restaurant, randomly stumbled across it while searching Craigslist for "champion", that being a leading brand of industrial-grade bakery mixer, and it sounds like he was immediately transfixed by the statue and knew he had to have it, and the rest is history.

There isn't a lot about the artist on the internet, but there are a few other KaMille sculptures in Waikiki on the grounds of the Hilton Hawaiian Village complex, including a menehune king, a deer spirit, and a group of tapa cloth makers working. The location is probably why I don't remember seeing any of them and have no photos. You are virtually guaranteed to get lost there, if you can even find your way in. It's supposed to be one of those all-encompassing resorts that is deliberately hard to leave, like most of Las Vegas. Which is great for the sort of tourist who gets freaked out by a little urban grit, a category that somehow includes many Japanese tourists as well as the sort of US mainland tourist who just comes here to see Pearl Harbor and generally wallow in all things World War II. Anyway, I like a good challenge, and now that I know there's something to see in there, I may have to go explore the Hilton labyrinth sometime if I'm in the area.