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Japan reels as sumo king hooks sex idol

TO SOME it might seem like a union of beauty and the beast. To others, it might seem natural that the two most famous expanses of flesh in Japan should decide to become one. But when it was revealed yesterday that the sumo superstar Takahanada was to marry the national sex symbol, Rie Miyazawa, the nation could talk of nothing else. The 'Taka-Rie' shock dominated news bulletins, front pages and the electronic news diplay boards on buildings in central Tokyo. Even the Prime Minister, Kiichi Miyazawa, was lost for words, repeating 'it is an amazing thing'.

But most surprised of all were the hordes of paparazzi who follow the two national celebrities nearly everywhere they go. Japan's tabloid papers and weekly scandal sheets compete aggressively for sensational 'scoops' about the love lives of public figures - they are so persevering that the Imperial Palace had to call them off the hunt for a bride for the Crown Prince after a number of potential candidates complained about intrusions of privacy.

Yet none of these newshounds had the slightest inkling of Takahanada's and Ms Miyazawa's romance, even though it turns out that the couple had been secretly in contact for two years. Both figures were riding high on their own respective crests of publicity. Takahanada, a 20-year-old wrestler who won the last national sumo tournament, is already being tipped as a future yokozuna, or grand champion. Ms Miyazawa, 19, a singer and actress, gripped Japan with a book of nude photos of her which was published last November and has sold over a million copies. Together the couple epitomise the heights of Japan's television-oriented popular culture.

Takahanada, whose name means 'dignified flower meadow' and who weighs a mere 298 lbs - modest for a sumo wrestler - has long enjoyed an extensive female fan club in Japan. His boyish good looks and quiet charisma have made him, along with his brother, Wakahanada, 21, the object of much adoration. The relative youth of the 'Waka-Taka' brothers has contributed greatly to the resurgence of interest in sumo by the younger generation in Japan.

Ms Miyazawa is considerably lighter than her husband-to-be, but her physique has also inspired its own fan club. Initially she was one of a large group of teenage female aidoru or idols, whose good looks propel them into a glamorous but short-lived singing and modelling career. Many of these teenage heart-throbs end up as second-rate actresses, some even in the pornography business. But when Ms Miyazawa, who has a Dutch father and a Japanese mother, made the decision to 'go nude', her popularity rocketed.

Mr Miyazawa, who is no relation, even used her picture on political pamphlets for his own campaign last year. Ms Miyazawa was flattered: 'Even though he is not my relative, I like him very much,' she gushed. She is currently starring with Arnold Schwarzenegger in a TV commercial for a health drink, as well as playing a leading role in a film called Erotic Relations.

(Photograph omitted)