People: Japan tackles a sticky problem

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THE IDEA of eating imported foreign rice sticks in the throats of many Japanese, who complain about its dryness, smell and infestation by insects and rodents. Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, however, are giving it a try, dining on a combination of Japanese, Chinese and American rice. But when fried rice is served in the Imperial household, it is 100 per cent Thai - the most unpopular type with Japanese consumers.

Prince Akishino, the younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito, is said to find Thai rice tasty, but the Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, didn't seem as enthusiastic when asked his view. 'That's a subject bringing troubles,' he said.

Those rice-gobbling sumo wrestlers will be given prizes of imported rice starting at the next tournament in May. The Sumo Association, which used to reward tournament winners with 1,800kg of domestic rice, now finds it impossible to prepare home-grown prizes, thanks to a poor harvest.

THE SUMO star Konishiki is due for more changes in his life than the origin of his rice. The Hawaiian-born 'Dumptruck' has developed chronic knee problems that are edging him into retirement and a second career as a sumo stable master - a combination trainer, manager, confidant and father- figure to a group of wrestlers. At 577lb, he is the heaviest wrestler in the recorded history of the sport.

If Konishiki is to lead a healthy, productive life after the ring, his doctors say, he must lose weight - not least to relieve the burden on those knees. Dr Masamitsu Tsuchiya, who treats Konishiki, said the wrestler takes in about 10,000 calories a day, three times the average for an adult man. Huge helpings of rich stew are an essential part of a sumo wrestler's daily diet, and many drink plenty of beer and sake with their meals.

Dr Tsuchiya wants Konishiki to cut his calorie intake by 20 per cent on retirement, with the initial goal of losing about 10 per cent of body weight. But how? Dr Kimio Yamada doesn't recommend jaw- clamping or spartan diets. He counsels self-control and hopes for the best.

ON SMALLER legs, Sir James Goldsmith is standing as a candidate in the European Parliament elections. The Franco-British ex-tycoon, who is 61, will be second on a list headed by a French right-winger, Philippe de Villiers. Sir Jimmy denies any political ambitions, saying he merely wants to highlight his opposition to European monetary union, the Schengen open- border agreement and the Gatt trade pact. His past excursions in politics have been mainly financial, and unsuccessful. He backed the centre-right candidate, Raymond Barre, who lost on the first ballot of the 1988 French presidential election.