By Brooks Baehr - bio | email
MAILI (HawaiiNewsNow) – Konishiki faced many tough opponents during his 15 year career as a sumo wrestler in Japan. But none packed the power of his most recent opponent; the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Northeastern Japan March 11, 2011.
In April Konishiki organized a humanitarian mission to aid tsunami victims still living in emergency shelters.
"The trick was to just at least give them something hot to eat. So we cooked up this Chanko soup. It's stew. It's like a sumo stew. Very famous. A lot of vegetables, chicken. There was tons of stuff," Konishiki told Hawaii News Now during a recent interview at his home in Maili.
While growing up on the Waianae Coast Konishiki went by his birth name, Saleva'a Atisanoe. But when his wrestling career began in 1982 he assumed his sumo name, Konishiki.
He quickly became one of the most successful and popular men in the sport. Now he is using his celebrity to assist tsunami victims. An estimated 120,000 people displaced by the tsunami are still living in shelters.
Konishiki and his team of volunteers fed an estimated 5,000 people at five shelters. Their trip included visits to shelters in Iwaki, Koriyama, and Aizuwakamatsu.
He told Hawaii News Now he was blown away by what he saw while traveling through tsunami ravaged neighborhoods.
"It's proof that mother nature can do things that human beings think they can do with their machines or their high technology. You cannot believe where you find cars in buildings. And you have 20 ton ships on top of a three story building. It's just something that you never imagined. It's like a movie," he said.
"The saddest is losing their loved ones, and a lot of them are the kids that are left behind. You know, their mom and their parents and their grandparents … they can't find them or they passed away," he added.
Konishiki was in his Tokyo apartment when the quake hit.
"It was 2:46 in fact in the afternoon and one of my golden retrievers was like crying, right after that everything hit. TVs were flying off tables and mirrors falling off the walls, but we far away," Konishiki said.
Closer to the epicenter, entire towns were washed away. The plight of survivors living in overcrowded gymnasiums and cafeterias inspired Konishiki to organize his relief effort.
"My thing was, I know these people are living in this area where they are not having hot food, so my goal was just to go up there, hit all the big shelters," he said.
Konishiki called friends who donated trucks and money. He dipped into his own savings to buy fresh produce, and emergency supplies including diapers, shampoo, and tooth brushes.
Once at shelters Konishiki and his team of 21 volunteers prepped, cooked, and served food from giant propane heated pots. His good friend Musashimaru, another former sumotori from the Waianae Coast, helped every step of the way.
"That's the human side of who I am as a human. Musashimaru is the same. We're just down to earth people, local boys who want to try to help any way we can," Konishiki told us.
Six-hundred pounds of chicken. One-thousand onions. Cases of carrots. And an estimated five-thousand people fed. It seems like a lot, but the need is enormous.
Wednesday night at 10 pm on Hawaii News Now find out about Konishiki's plan to provide additional aid. Follow him inside the shelters to see how a sumo star turned children's television host can produce smiles where they are needed most.
Anyone interested in learning more about Konishiki's relief efforts or his Konishiki's Kids Foundation can visit the following web sites.
For information on how to help with his next trip to the disaster zone, contact Michele Leao at 286-1009 or email@example.com.
Donations can be sent to:
PO Box 2957 Waianae, Hawaii 96792.