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Salt Bae, the Turkish restauranteur whose signature salt-sprinkling move became a huge meme in 2017, made his mark in the world of sumo wrestling this month. Salt Bae wasn’t actually wrestling, of course, but one fighter threw salt in a clear reference to the meme. The move had the audience, and the Japanese internet, in stitches.
ここほんと草 pic.twitter.com/Rn8yHxFVny— かものはし (@sawasawaazusa) February 12, 2018
This clip was one of the most popular tweets in Japan this week, and it had everyone going “wwwwwwwwwwwwwwww”—the Japanese internet slang equivalent of “lol.”
Here’s the whole hilarious sumo match. The Salt Bae moment comes in around 9:14.
What you’re seeing in this video is shokkiri, a kind of sumo slapstick comedy that you won’t find at major competitions. It typically happens as a treat for the audience at exhibitions—in this case, the retirement ceremony for Mongolian sumo pro Asasekiryū Tarō.
The Salt Bae move didn’t come out of nowhere: throwing salt to purify the ring is part of sumo wrestling’s elaborate, Shinto-based pre-match ritual. Re-enacting the meme was just a shokkiri twist on the tradition.
And Japan definitely knows who Salt Bae is. Many of the replies to the viral sumo video were pictures of the salty, sunglass-clad icon.
It’s been a big month for Salt Bae, a.k.a. Nusret Gökçe. Although his meme has faded in popularity since its January 2017 debut, his business seems to be going strong: He just personally served steak to footballer/model David Beckham at his New York location, complete with the famous Salt Bae flourish. Some say the place is a rip-off, but everyone agrees it’s hard to resist the charm of that personal Salt Bae touch.
Maybe a Tokyo location is next?
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.