Retired sumo champ Akebono on Japanese promo for “Glee!”

I saw this on Angry Asian Man and it made me smile, both because Erin and I really enjoy the Fox series “Glee!” and because it’s good to see that Akebono, the sumo wrestler who sings “Don’t Stop Believin’” on the commercial, is still a star with drawing power in Japan.

You might notice that for a sumo wrestler, Akebono sings the Journey chestnut with nary a Japanese accent. He may not be a great singer (ahem) but his accent is American. That’s because he was born in Hawai’i, and his real name is Chad Haakeo Rowan. In 1993, he shocked Japan and the sumo establishment by becoming the first foreigner ever to win the coveted title of Yokozuna — Grand Champion.

I remember my mom, who’s addicted to watching sumo via NHK satellite here in Colorado (her schedule revolves around being home for the matches, or as a last resort videotaping them), expressing her amazement and incredulity: “Hehhhhhhhhhhh? Hahhhhhhhhhhh? He’s not Nihonjin!”

Akebono was Yokozuna for eight years and won 11 championship tournaments during his reign, and became a Japanese citizen in 1996 before retiring from sumo competition in 2001 to become a coach.

He probably relished the chance to sing a Journey hit for the commercial (the song was part of an episode of “Glee!” last season). Akebono was born in 1969 and grew up in Hawai’i — he played basketball and football in high school — so he may have been a young fan of Journey when the song was a huge hit in 1981.

The commercial is an interesting cross-cultural artifact on several levels of the ongoing give-and-take relationship between the United States and Japan. And, it made me smile. Rock on, Akebono!

UPDATE: Japanese TV viewers can expect to see more of Akebono in a series of promos for “Glee!,” which debuts its first season Feb. 11 (with subtitles), while we in the U.S. wait until April for the start of the series’ second season. Here’s another spot, with Akebono playing a salaryman:

A must-read: Thoughtful essay about race and the Fox series “Glee”

The cast of the Fox TV series "Glee."

Erin and I have come to love “Glee!,” the Fox TV series about a group of outcast students who join their high school glee club (remember how glee club people were always the nerds?). We enjoyed the sneak preview premier, which was shown last fall, and then waited with great anticipation for the season to start this spring. After several shows, though, we started to tune out the outrageous stupidity of some of the characters (faking a pregnancy to hold on to a husband; lying about the father of a pregnancy to hold on to a boyfriend) even though we really liked the dancing and singing, which are top-notch every week.

So we blew it off for a few weeks, then came back to it again one week and got re-hooked by the musical numbers all over again. The first season just ended and did a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, we thought. It also left unresolved the plotline of the evil cheerleader’s coach who wants to get the teacher who’s the glee club sponsor fired.

I just read a very good, thoughtful and laser-focused essay by Sylvie Kim of The Antisocial Ladder, which was also re-posted on Hyphen’s excellent blog, that I think everyone should read. Continue reading