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JACQUES CHIRAC

Japan mourns Shiraku (Chirac), serious sumo enthusiast

Just one of the boys: Shiraku meets a few of sumo's heavy brigade.
Just one of the boys: Shiraku meets a few of sumo's heavy brigade. Reuters

When late French president Jacques Chirac departed a sumo arena in Japan's Osaka in 2005, the crowd gave him a standing ovation, applauding the sport's super-fan and chanting "Shiraku!, Shiraku!"

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For many in Japan, the charismatic statesman will be remembered less for his opposition to the second Iraq war or his support for European unity than for his deep and abiding love of the sport of sumo.

He is said to have insisted he learned all he needed to know in life from the ancient sport, and even wondered whether he could have made the grade himself.

"Maybe if I'd started young," he mused in 1998.

"I was tall enough, and as for weight, well, you can put that on with time..."

The head of Japan's sumo association said he was shocked to hear of Chirac's death but "deeply grateful" for his love of the sport.

"I am surprised to hear the sudden sad news," said chairman Hakkaku, a former yokozuna, or sumo champion, in a statement.

"I am deeply grateful for his kindness and pray that he rests in peace."

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