Does Sumo need saving? The crisis facing Japan’s national sport

Does Sumo need saving? The crisis facing Japan’s national sport


Sumo is resistant to change. Do you feel that in the 21st century
it might need to change to survive? The ancient Japanese ritual of sumo
is at a crossroads: Marred with years of controversy
and scandal, the sport is struggling to attract new talent. Why do you think it is that fewer young people
today are going into sumo? The hard life of a sumo wrestler appears out
of step with the 21st century. This year, the sumo association’s summer
recruitment drive had to be cancelled, as nobody had applied to take part. I’ve come to the Ryogoku district in Tokyo,
the home of sumo, to find out what Japan’s national sport
is doing to modernise, while staying true to its traditional
shinto roots. I’ve been granted rare access to
one of Tokyo’s 46 ‘stables’, highly disciplined environments
where sumo wrestlers train, eat, sleep and live. Famous for its cats,
Arashio stable is also home to 12 wrestlers. But on arrival at 6am,
I didn’t get much of a welcome. The traditions of sumo have remained
the same for hundreds of years. This slapping ritual casts demons out
of the sacred ring – which is then purified with salt. After a formal introduction,
I was allowed to speak with the coach, Ōyutaka. How has sumo changed
since you were a wrestler? This is Sōkokurai,
one of Arashio’s highest ranking wrestlers. At the most recent grand tournament
in November, Sōkokurai won all seven of his matches, becoming champion
of his division in the process. Is there a danger that sumo
becomes a relic of the past because it is so steeped in tradition,
and not a living, breathing thing? Another factor in the demise
of this iconic sport is its long line of scandals, stretching back over 10 years. Match fixing, violent bullying
and links to organised crime have all impacted
on sumo’s modern reputation. In late 2017, the Mongolian champion Harumafuji
was forced to resign in disgrace after attacking a junior wrestler
on a night out. In April, female medics were told
to leave the ring when they battled to save the life
of a local politician, who had collapsed while giving a speech. This caused outrage in Japan,
and threw gender into the spotlight. According to the rules of sumo,
women aren’t allowed inside the ring. But they are allowed to wrestle – as amateurs. Here at the Asahi University sumo club, eight female wrestlers train
alongside their male counterparts. Do you feel that women should have
the same access to sumo as men? If you agree, put your hand up. You think so? Just you? Nobody else? There’s been a lot of news recently
around women’s role in sumo, and I wonder what your take is on that and whether you feel women
should be able to compete professionally. I wonder if you see a day in the future when Ryogoku might be home to
a women’s stable? Historically sumo has been dominated
by Japanese wrestlers, but more recently the stars of the sport
have mostly been foreign born, with Mongolian wrestlers
at the head of the pack. Foreigners have to assimilate into the local
culture quickly but arrive in Japan dedicated,
and hungry for success. Back at Arashio after the morning
training session, I was invited to share a meal
with the wrestlers. What is this? We have a declining population,
and fewer people coming into sumo, what’s the answer? Do you all think then that it’s important
to have foreign wrestlers come in to make up the numbers? What is that? You keep that one. With such restrictions in place,
foreigners alone can not make up for the lack of wrestlers coming through. But in spite of all its problems, sumo is currently enjoying a boon
in popularity among fans. Can you explain what this resurgence
in popularity is down to? The sumo joshi phenomenon
has helped drive renewed interest in the sport. In 2017, all six flagship tournaments
sold out for the first time in 21 years. The other big driver of the sport’s
modern success – tourism. Here in Ryogoku, attractions
like the Eko-in temple, shops selling everything from snacks to socks, and theme restaurants
serving the traditional sumo stew, chanko nabe, all bask in the reflected glory of the modern
home of sumo, the Kokugikan arena. Chika Yamane is an actress,
TV presenter and self-identifying sumo joshi. I went to meet her
at the arena’s sumo museum. So you have a lot of signatures here. You’ve got everyone! And there’s Sōkokurai. There’s been a lot of talk recently
about women not being able to access professional sumo. Do you think that will change?
Should it change? I understand that sumo is experiencing
a bit of a surge in popularity and that’s down to, in no small part,
by the rise of the sumo joshi. Could you explain to me where that came from? Back at the stable,
the wrestlers were slowly waking up from their afternoon nap,
and preparing for a rare night out. Your face there,
it’s so good. It’s such a picture. That’s you! It’s me. Tsuna magazine is the brainchild
of recovering punk musician Kazma Takeuchi. It’s been credited with opening up
the world of sumo for a new generation of fans, thanks to its eye-catching design
and informal style. I wanted to know how Tsuna tackles
the sport’s long list of controversies. Are you presenting a sanitised
version of the sumo world? Isn’t punk and the punk spirit all
about changing the status quo? This desire for something fixed
in a changing world is one shared by many of the people
I spoke to. They don’t want sumo to lose sight
of its historical traditions but to attract the new participants
it needs to maintain its place in the Japanese psyche, it must surely do more to adapt.
And fast.

41 Replies to “Does Sumo need saving? The crisis facing Japan’s national sport”

  1. No recruits in summer is a yearly thing. Most join in March. Same every year. 'Granted rare access' is a cliched (and untrue) line. Every single name pronounced cringingly incorrect. Lots of other little things could be nitpicked about but it's not a bad report all in all. Some good footage and interviews. Biggest problem is it seemed the reporter had his mind made up about the story beforehand and tried to wedge everything into that narrative. Didn't work because the initial premise wasn't true. Should have just let the subjects tell the story themselves. Would have been much stronger.

  2. Used to love watching Sumo on transworld sport. Always fun betting on which guy with a 'well developed' physique would win.

  3. no mass immigration, no relativism (gender, hierarchies, etc..), traditional food, politeness, tradition and modernity = no globalism = heaven on earth ?

  4. Sexist traditions have no place in a modern world. Believing things are good because they are old is a crippling mentality that needs to die.

  5. 4:21 – Wow, that's absolute BS! She's doing her best to fulfill her ethical duties as a medic to save a dying human being, only to be told to leave the ring because it offends some giant man-babies and an imaginary deity.

  6. Just shut up already about women in professional sumo.
    It's not a must. These entitled liberal douchebags must learn to keep their noses out of certain people's business. You introduce more women into sumo in 2019, come 2020, this same guy will be back in Japan to report on the new "Sumo metoo movement". Nonsense.

  7. Uncultured Guardian snobs, this is such a ridiculous narrative the guy is trying to push "Oh you need to get rid of your national traditions to survive!!!" Give it a rest, this is Japan, hwo about you wind your neck in a bit and show some respect, Japanese love their culture, unlike your self hating. So the man tells him about the Goddess in the ring, uncultured Guardian snob just ignores it, continues to arrogantly push women in pro sumo ignoring local customs for his lilberal intolerance. Sumo has been around 1000s of years, is still hugely popular, you're report is full of lies and misleading narratives to push an anti-tradition socialist agenda.

  8. Maybe we could lower the standards like in every other sport to allow wimmin to feel more included? Theres plenty of fat birds here in Manchester, UK

  9. tbh i just think sumo is more popular cuz hakuho is breaking a lot of records in the past few years. but i can definitely tell this reporter barely did his homework before the interview.

  10. 12:18_ Many people have a great deal of knowledge but don't have wisdom these days…….
    How could he have found a sentence so apt to the inquest of this video

  11. I think the Japanese would do well in keeping their traditions alive, particularly the ones concerning gender roles, but I'm not a Japanese, so it isn't my place to tell them what to do. I can only invite them to watch what has happened to Western societies when we decided gender doesn't exist. It's a grim picture.

  12. 1. It doesnt need saving. Its more popular than ever and growing fast in the US.

    2. Womens sumo is a sad double edge sword. Sumo inherently means heavy weight. Sumo are athletes. Meaning an athletic woman would have to intentionally get very heavy to compete. Sumo men are naturally heavy (and they add weight) so its no big deal for them.

  13. 9:54 I totally agree with that, the current male masculinity image really needs to stop, having photographic face, abs and such, sleeping in perfect posture and more. That's as bad as sexualizing women.

  14. "Sumo is entertainment, after all, because we are living in an unhappy age. Because we feel melancholy for our innocent past. Many people have a great deal of knowledge but don't have wisdom today. While nothing is permanent in this world, at least sumo is maintaining its culture and rituals."

    Profound.

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