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Big in Japan: Bodybuilding Competition



Inside the crowd was unique and varied. Larger men who wistfully looked up at the stage hoping to one day compete or perhaps remembering their own glory days, friends and middle-aged wives smartly dressed shouting words of encouragement to their partners on stage, and then the few photographers and writers scribbling notes on the happenings of this exclusive group.

That day there were actually a number of competitions held. The two biggest were for the title of Mr. Hyogo and Mr. Kansai, but within each, as with most events that deal with body size, men were separated by age and weight class. Most surprising were the four men from the 70 and older age group who gave me hope for a future without a walker and loose skin. Four women also competed for a chance to be crowned Ms. Kansai.

The event was long and sometimes tedious with the novelty running off rather quickly. Competitors lined up on stage, everyone limited to shallow breathes as they tried to keep their bodies flexed, waiting for the judges to call them to the front. When called three to four participants were asked to pose in different ways to accentuate certain muscle groups. DSC_0192The order often went chest, biceps, triceps with shoulders, abdominals together with thighs, and back with hamstrings and calves. After the group stage some were eliminated, those who remained performed one-minute solo poses set to a song. Songs ranged from opera ballads to the Hanshin Tigers theme song. This solo round was followed by another group comparison before the winners were announced. Certificates were given to everyone who advanced and medals to those who came in first, second and third. I don’t claim to be an expert, but this competition also differed from those in other countries in that it appeared to be steroid free. No one was particularly enormous like competitors in the States who fill their audience with a sense of awe and nausea. Rather, it appears many got in incredible shape by simply directing their Japanese work-ethic to dieting and training.


Although still far from having the same popularity as Sumo wrestling, the current bodybuilding community appears to be committed to competing for years and years to come. It may never share the spotlight with Sumo, but it should still come as no surprise that some Japanese are taking a different (and better looking) route to become big in Japan.



Sean Mulvihill



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