Article By: Leo Yamaguchi
Sumo master Takanohana (Photo by Route246)
The Japan Sumo Association (JSA) and the sumo wrestling sport as a whole are in a time of reform. As the 2020 Olympics are coming to Japan, the national sport of Japan is being asked to “modernize” by reducing the violence at all levels within the sport from the locker room, to practices, to competitions and in public. This modernization is important for the association and for the future of sumo itself.
Japanese media first shed light on problems in the JSA when Harumafuji, the Yokozuna (champion) at the time, assaulted a minor sumo wrestler during a party. The incident became a scandal when, Takanohana, the sumo master of the minor sumo wrestler went against regulations and filed a police report, not telling the association and causing conflict between the master and the association. Later, the master also commented that the sumo association may have hidden the incident if he had not gone public (Yokozuna).
Because of these revelations, public distrust against the sumo association rose; consequently, the sumo association vowed to change their ways. After apologizing about the scandals, the association informed the sumo wrestlers that it strictly prohibits any future violence among sumo wrestlers (In Wake). The association also hosted numerous sumo events and repeated its apology countless times during these events, attempting to rebuild the trust of their fans. After the incident with Harumafuji, the association had repeatedly cautioned all members about their words and deeds while drinking (Top Sumo). Nonetheless, another scandal caused further negative public reaction toward the association. On the 16th of December 2017, the head gyoji (judge) “got drunk during a sumo circuit tour in December and repeatedly kissed a teenaged referee” (Top Sumo). This incident was a another major blow for the sumo association as it was attempting to rehabilitate its reputation.
Contrary to the JSA’s stated desires, yet another incident occurred that posed an ethical and social problem to Japanese society. On the 4th of April 2018, a medically qualified woman tried to enter the sumo arena to help an unconscious man during an awards ceremony. The announcer quickly called out to stop the woman doing so since by tradition women have not been allowed to enter the arena (Motoko). This action by the announcer sparked public outrage as many people believed it was very backward-minded. When the announcer cited the regulations that justified his actions, people shifted their focus back to the association. The JSA, however, did not apologize for the action, and they continue to state that they had simply been following their traditions.
Even though the JSA has made numerous promises to “change”. These promises were never fully fulfilled, as has been demonstrated by these successive incidents. If the JSA cannot change as needed, their sport likely will not continued to be acceptable to the public. In fact, the reputation of the association has dropped to the point where key members of the association, such as the association chairman Hakkaku’s wife and JSA director Oguruma, have “received death threats” (Jackson). This situation is unacceptable for what is deemed the “national sport” of Japan. If sumo is not able to restore its reputation among Japanese society, it will not be viewed as a legitimate sport in Japan or the rest of the world.
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Rich, Motoko. “Women Barred From Sumo Ring, Even to Save a Man’s Life.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/04/05/world/asia/women-sumo-ring-japan.html.
Route246. “Takanohana.jpg.” Wikimedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Jan. 2015, upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Takanohana.jpg.
“Top Sumo Referee Made Sexual Advances to Teenaged Boy：The Asahi Shimbun, 6 Jan. 2018, www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201801060019.html.
“Yokozuna Harumafuji Involved in Drunken Assault on Fellow Wrestler, Stablemaster Admits.” The Japan Times, The Japan Times Association, Kyodo. 14 Nov. 2017, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/