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 Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Foreigners Need Not Compete

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Posts : 1635
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Join date : 2011-08-09
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PostSubject: Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Foreigners Need Not Compete   Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Foreigners Need Not Compete EmptyMon Mar 26, 2012 10:01 am

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Japanese Sumo wrestling is a unique sport given the fact that professional sumo wrestling is only practiced inJapan. Moreover, both Japanese and foreigners (perhaps for different reasons though) see sumo wrestling as the very embodiment and symbol of Japanese culture because many of the rituals practiced in sumo comes from Shinto, the indigenous Japanese form of spirituality. In fact, I was once in transit at theTokyoAirportand the TV screens were showing a Japanese Sumo wrestling competition!

However, sumo wrestling has not exactly been welcoming non-Japanese. In fact and in 1992 after one sumo “stable” recruited six Mongolians, the recruiting of foreigners into sumo stables was unofficially banned.

Later on, it was ruled that each stable could recruit just two foreigners until a total of 40 foreigners were reached in the sport. Then in 2002, this foreigner sumo wrestling quota was lowered to just one foreigner per stable (but the quota was not made retroactive). However and if a foreign born sumo wrestler adopts Japanese citizenship as one Mongolian and one Tongan sumo wrestler had done, the stable would be allowed to recruit another foreigner.

Nevertheless and in 2010, the Japan Sumo Association ruled that they would define “foreign” as “foreign-born.” This means that naturalized Japanese citizens, even if they have Japanese ancestry but were not born inJapan, would be counted as “foreign.” Moreover and since there are only 52 sumo stables and roughly 800 professional sumo wrestlers registered with the Japan Sumo Association, the new rules would severely limit future “foreign” participation in Japanese sumo wrestling.

Japanese Sumo Wrestling: Foreigners Need Not Compete Sumo3

The move, as with previous rulings to limit “foreign” participation in Japanese sumo wrestling, was criticized by some for being racist. One columnist (who is a naturalized Japanese citizen) wrote in the Japan Times that the Japan Sumo Association’s ruling was unlawful underJapan’s Nationality Law and the country’s constitution as neither allows for any distinctions between foreign-born and Japanese-born citizens. However, the columnist also noted that one stable master had expressed fears that Japanese sumo wrestling was being “overrun with foreign wrestlers.”

On the other hand and in a 2007 article that appeared in the Guardian, it was reported that Japanese sumo wrestling had failed to attract one single Japanese recruit for the first time in its history. Hence, the Japan Sumo Association was forced to cancel its sumo wrestling tests.

The reasons cited included the popularity of foreign sports such as basketball and baseball among the youth, who also have more career and lifestyle options now, and the fact that Japanese sumo wrestlers have a grueling training regimen where they are forced to live a spartan existence. Moreover, the image of Japanese sumo wrestling has been tarnished in recent years by allegations of match fixing.

Hence, will the day come when the Japanese Sumo Association and Japanese sumo wrestling in particular will be forced to embrace foreign sumo wrestlers in order for the sport to survive? Only time will tell but given that Japan itself is increasingly facing a demographic crisis of falling birthrates and an aging population, it might be sooner rather than later when Japan will be forced to embrace foreign sumo wrestlers.

(Photos by “Better than Bacon”)


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