INDONESIA - In front of a crowd of thousands, two sumo wrestlers charged at each other with full force, their bodies colliding with a tremendous smack that echoed through the arena in the Indonesian capital Jakarta.
The first official sumo tournament to be held outside Japan in five years saw wrestler Kotoyuki take an early advantage against his opponent with a series of quick stinging slaps to the chest and a steady push forward.
"I love sumo I've studied it, but this is the first time they've come to Indonesia and it's the first time I've seen it live," Julyana Antika, a 22-year-old student of Japanese literature at a Jakarta university, told AFP at the weekend competition.
Antika accompanied by a dozen Japanese exchange students from Takushoku University in Tokyo is just one of many young Indonesians who are increasingly consuming Japanese culture through entertainment, comics, fashion and food.
With money from her part-time job as a Japanese-Indonesian translator, Antika buys Japanese magazines, watches Japanese cartoons, uses a Panasonic digital camera and a Sony mobile phone.
Indonesians have come late to the party Japanese culture was embraced in the West in the 1970s and 1980s but a boom in Southeast Asia's top economy and Japanese firms' hunt for new markets have combined to create a recent upsurge in interest.
"Two years ago, when I first came to Indonesia, we had around 1,000 Japanese business people coming to us for Indonesian market advice," said Kenichi Tomiyoshi, chief of the Japan External Trade Organisation's's Indonesian operations.
"But in the past 12 months, we've already advised 4,000," he said, adding it had been hard to keep up with requests.