Chankonabe (Weight-gaining stew for sumo) (ちゃんこ鍋)

Chankonabe is a hot pot dish eaten mainly by professional sumo wrestlers and professional wrestlers in Japan.

Originally, the term "chanko" refers to a sumo wrestler's meal itself. People tend to think that the chanko is limited to hot pot dishes, but it is not true (as described below). In many cases, sumo wrestlers eat hot pod dishes as their diet to develop their physique for sumo, and then those hot pot dishes became widely known as chankonabe.

"Chanko" and "Chankonabe"

In sumo stables, chankoban (person in charge of preparing sumo wrestler's meals) serves as "chankocho (most experienced chanko cook in the sumo stable)" to cook the chanko, and it is cooked mainly by sumo wrestlers themselves at the rank of "makushita" or below. Tradition has it that a sumo wrestler who has took care of cooking as chankoban for a long time serves as chankocho and therefore, it is sometimes said that "sumo wrestlers who are good at cooking will not succeed in sumo." After those wrestlers quit sumo, however, most of them open chanko restaurants to serve chankonabe as a main menu item, taking advantage of their cooking skills acquired at the sumo stables. That's how the chankobane has become widely known in public (Chankonabe as restaurant industry). In the case of professional wrestlers, the chankonabe is usually cooked by duty young wrestlers or trainees in their professional wrestling group's dojo (training hall).

Soup stock for the chankonabe has been often taken from chicken bones called soppu since early times to bring good luck from a chicken standing on two legs like human beings. In addition, thin sumo wrestlers are called soppu still now since chicken bones are thin (whereas fat sumo wrestlers with the sagging lower abdomen are called anko). In the related matter, the meat of animals with four legs such as beef and pork was avoided long ago to keep off bad luck because those animals are suggestive of "going down on all fours" meaning "losing a sumo match," but those meats have been used now. Meatballs are commonly used for the ingredient because they are suggestive of shiroboshi (victory mark).

The base seasoning of the chankonabe is not only soy sauce or miso, but also salt now, and there is no specific seasoning for it. Using various seasoning such as kimuchi (Korean pickle), curry powder and cream sauce, some sumo stables have created a wide variety of chankonabe to keep wrestlers from getting tired of the dish and, therefore every sumo stables have their own recipes. Although there is no rule for ingredients, meat and fish are mostly used for the chankonabe to take protein because it is a regular diet in sumo stables. In some cases, recipes of other hot pot dishes such as mizutaki (chicken hot pot), sukinabe (sukiyaki-like dish) or chirinabe (fish hot pot) are directly applied to cook the chankonabe. In recent years, from the viewpoint of the prevention of lifestyle-related diseases, many sumo stables use more vegetables to cook nutritiously-balanced chankonabe under the dietician's instructions.

In chankonabe restaurants, however, many chankonabe contains meatballs mentioned above, cabbage, Chinese cabbage and udon noodles for its traditional images. Each chankonabe is called "tori chanko" or "miso chanko" in accordance with a main ingredient or seasoning.

Word origin and birthplace

There are many views on the origin of the word "chanko," and it has not been identified now.

For a start, there is a view that "chan" means China and "ko" means a pot in Chinese. It is assumed that, in Nagasaki, where a big iron Chinese wok was called "zhong guo," sumo wrestlers on tour cooked a meal with the wok and later called it "chanko" in a corrupted form."

There is another view that "chanko" refers directly to China because "guo (pot) (on the first tone)" and "guo (country) (on the second tone)" have a similar sound to each other in Chinese. This means that Nagasaki residents called a pot from China "chanko (China or Chinese) nabe (pot)" and then sumo wrestler on tour in Nagasaki might have called a dish made with the pot "chankonabe." In Nagasaki, the pot was later named "chanko" for short (which is thought be the same way of naming pumpkin).

In addition to the above views, there is a view that oyakata (stablemaster) was replaced with "chan (father)" and deshi (pupil) with "ko (child)" based on the relationships between oyakata and deshi, and then dishes eaten by oyakata and deshi together were called "chanko."

Furthermore, there is a view that it was derived from a Malay word, campur to chanpuru (Okinawa) and then champon (Nagasaki).

In either case, the term "chanko" seemed to have referred to general diets for sumo wrestlers, not hot pot dishes since the word was used.

It was the Meiji period when "chanko" was established as hot pod dishes. The Dewanoumi Sumo Stable gathered many pupils when Taniemon HITACHIYAMA belonged to the sumo stable, and then the ordinary way of serving meals caused trouble with their meals. From the viewpoint of efficiency, a meal cooked in a large pot started to be eaten in crowds and it is said that that's how the chankonabe became a regular meal for sumo wrestlers.

It is also said that Hitachiyama called senior sumo wrestlers in charge of cooking "chankou" affectionately.

It was Rikidozan, the founder of the professional wrestling who introduced the chankonabe into the world of Japanese professional wrestling because most pro wrestlers came from Kakukai (the world of Sumo), such as Michiharu TOYONOBORI and Junzo YOSHINOSATO. The All Japan Pro-wrestling follows the taste of the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance because it had many former members of the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance such as Great Kojika (the current president of the All Japan Pro-wrestling) and Motoshi OKUMA who were sumo wrestlers. During a certain period from the late 1980's, in the New Japan Pro-wrestling, Seiji SAKAGUCHI who was the vice president employed a cook serving concurrently as a janitor of the dojo because young wrestlers said "chankoban is a hard job" (but the cook and young wrestlers cook it together now).

Chankonabe as restaurant industry

The chankonabe has been established as well as a field of the restaurant industry.

Restaurants called chankonabe restaurants or chanko restaurants have existed since relatively old times among restaurant industries, and most of them were opened by retired sekitori (a sumo wrestler ranked in the top two divisions) or retired sumo wrestlers who could not be sekitori but exercised their cooking skills as chankoban for a long time. Most restaurants are named after owner's ring names used during their careers as well as the ring names of sumo wrestlers for whom they were assistant, the ring names investing sekitori and oyakata's ring names used during their careers to borrow their name recognition. In light of the background of the establishment, the dish is directly connected to sumo culture and, therefore there are many chanko restaurants around Ryogoku (Sumida Ward), and in big cities such as Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka where regional tournaments are held. From that aspect, for sumo wrestlers who have chankoban experience in particular, it is not uncommon to work for those restaurants after retired from sumo although they don't open a restaurant.

For that reason, as described above, places around Ryogoku and cities where sumo tournaments are held can be centers of chanko restaurants, and some companies have operated their chanko restaurant chains widely since the late Showa period. In recent years, Dream Ark run by Masaru HANADA, the former yokozuna (sumo grand champion) Wakanohara succeeded in operating a chunko restaurant chain under the brand name of "Chanko Dining Waka" on a nationwide scale as well as overseas, and have a presence as a influential in the industry since the year 2000 by offering sumo prize money.

Slang expression derived from sumo

"Chanko has not been flavored" refers to sumo wrestlers who are in development or have difficulty in getting accustomed to rules of the sumo world just after joining sumo. In recent years, this phrase is cynically used for sekitori who quickly climbed to the top levels from the student sumo. It is said that this was originally a pet phrase uttered by Futagoyama, Kanji WAKANOHANA (the first) or a comment made by a sumo commentator, Umekichi TAMANOUMI.

In old times, chanko also meant a congratulatory gift of money from patrons. They used the word like "Here it is for chanko," and it is said that they usually gave money more than that for one meal. According to the anecdote in the memoir of Kiyotaka TOCHINISHIKI, when he was told that "it is chanko" and pushed to take a gift wrapped in paper just after promoted to ozeki (a sumo wrestler of the second highest rank), he opened the gift, thinking that it would be a bento box or something, but it was 1 million yen.