The Fight For Women In Sumo Wrestling

Sumo wrestling  is recognized as the national sport of Japan. It’s also traditionally been a male-only sport, but it’s gaining popularity among women and they are fighting for their place in history.

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Japan’s National Sports

  • Sumo wrestling originated in Japan and is recognized as its national sport. 
  • The history of sumo wrestling dates back to over 2,000 years, however it gained popularity and began to develop into a professional sport during the Edo period (1603-1868).
  • Today, Japan is still the only country where sumo is practiced professionally.

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  • Despite its popularity, sumo has faced multiple controversies including match-fixing, gambling, hazing, and exclusion of women.
  • Match-fixing is when tournaments are organized unfairly in order to predetermine the result of a match.
  • In 2011, a case was held and 14 professional wrestlers were guilty of match-fixing for money.

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Ancient Rituals & Traditions

  • Professional sumo has always been a “male only” sport.
  • Sumo wrestling and the Japan Sumo Association (JSA) rules are strongly based on religious rituals and traditions.
  • The exclusion of women in sumo wrestling stems from traditional Shinto and Buddhist beliefs which state that women are “impure” due to menstruation.
  • Based on these traditions, women are not allowed to enter sumo rings because the rings are considered to be scared grounds.

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Values v. Morals

  • In 2018, a Japanese mayor collapsed from a stroke while giving a speech at a match.
  • Multiple women rushed into the ring to perform first-aid during the medical emergency.
  • A referee began to repeatedly announce that the women must get out of the ring.
  • After the event gained public visibility and received criticism, the head of the sumo wrestling association, Nobuyoshi Hakkaku, stated his apology.
  • Hakkaku thanked the women for their help but made it clear that these circumstances are only acceptable in life-threatening situations.

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Seeking Professional Status

  • Many women have fought and petitioned for the sumo association’s ban against women to be lifted.
  • A petition was created against the JSA.
  • The following statement was made in the petition: “The president [of the JSA] was born from a woman who menstruated. If sumo is sacred, the physiology of a woman who gives birth is also sacred.” 
  • Although the petition was unsuccessful, there were over 17,000 signatures.

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They’re Still Fighting

  • The JSA is showing no signs of changing their policies anytime soon, but the sport is continuing to gain popularity at the ametuer level for women.
  • Women are continuing to fight for equality, competing in sumo at colleges, local tournaments, and even in Women’s World Championships.

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Netflix Documentary: Little Miss Sumo

  • In 2018, a short Netflix documentary was released which confronted the gender equality issues in sumo wrestling.
  • The documentary is a story about Hiyori Kon, a women in sumo who is passionate about fighting gender issues.
  • “I believe that as a result of my hard work,” said Kon, “women’s sumo will stop facing discrimination. I will continue to strive for it with that belief.” 

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