Video of the incident has critics saying sumo’s belief about women’s inherent impurities goes too far.

With a history that stretches back centuries, sumo is a sport steeped not only in tradition, but in religious significance as well. The raised sumo ring, called a dohyo, is considered sacred, and the practice of sumo wrestlers tossing salt across it is said to act as a further purification.

Because of orthodox Shinto beliefs regarding women as impure in certain ways, women are forbidden from entering the sumo ring, but a recent incident in Kyoto Prefecture’s Maizuru City has many saying that an exception should be made in situations of life and death.

On the afternoon of April 4, a regional sumo exhibition was being held in the Maizuru Culture Park Gymnasium. After yokozuna grand champions Kakuryu and Hakuho made their entrances, Maizuru mayor Ryozo Tatami stepped into the ring to welcome the crowd. However, during his speech the 67-year-old Tatami suddenly lost consciousness and collapsed.

A crowd quickly gathered around Tatami, with one woman promptly administering a heart massage to try to bring the mayor back to consciousness. Then, at the 38-second mark of the video above, two more women can be seen stepping up into the ring, ostensibly hoping to offer some sort of assistance.

Seconds later, though, an announcer’s voice can be heard through the PA system, saying “Josei no kata ha dohyo kara orite kudasai,” or “Ladies, please exit the sumo ring.” The announcement is immediately repeated, and when the two women remain in the ring, the announcer says it a third time, adding “Gentlemen, also, please exit the ring.”

The initial specification that “ladies” should exit the platform has drawn angry criticism from online commenters in Japan, whose reactions after watching the video included:

“So if the paramedics on-scene were women, were they just supposed to leave him to die?”
“Putting the sanctity of the ring ahead of a person’s life. Sumo is supposed to be religious, but do they think the gods will be happy with this sort of behavior?”
“No matter what the circumstances, saving a person’s life should come first.”

In all fairness, the announcer’s choice of words may not have been entirely prompted by a desire to protect the dohyo from female impurity. At the beginning of the video, several men can be seen in the ring, but they’re dressed in traditional garb or suits, or are wearing ID cards around their necks or armbands on their sleeves, denoting their status as event staff or administrators who, one would think, are trained and obligated to respond to health emergencies during the exhibition. At 0:13, a woman in casual clothing steps into the ring to begin massaging Tatami’s chest, and at 0:21 another woman also ascends into the dohyo to assist. Both appear to know what they’re doing, with the decisive movements of the first woman in particular suggesting that she’s a trained medical professional, and neither is immediately told to leave.

Two more women step onto the dohyo at 0:43, and the announcer makes his first request for “ladies” to leave the ring at 0:45. However, this is also the same moment that a man dressed in a kimono (again, likely an event administrator) arrives at the dohyo with a defibrillator, with a team of either security or medical personnel following close behind.

Because of this, it’s possible that the announcement for “ladies” to leave the ring is specifically referring to the second pair of women, who were standing about on the platform after stepping up onto it. From their attire, they appear to be spectators, not staff, and it could be that the announcer wants them to leave not because they’re women, but because he wants them to give the trained professionals space to do their jobs. As for the tacked-on request for “gentlemen” to also leave, after the second pair of women step into the ring, a man casually dressed in a plaid shirt also enters the ring, and it’s clearly his presence the announcer is saying is unwanted, as opposed to each and every man in the dohyo.

Nevertheless, Japan Sumo Association Chairman Hakkaku (born Nobuyoshi Hoshi) has deemed the announcer’s actions reprehensible, issuing the following statement of apology on the day of the incident:

“Today, during an exhibition at Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, Mayor Ryozo Tatai collapsed. We are praying for his speedy recovery.

We wish to express our deep gratitude to the women who promptly administered first aid measures. During their administration, the referee in charge of announcements repeatedly said ‘Ladies, please leave the ring.’ The referee was agitated, but nonetheless his actions were inappropriate in a life-or-death situation, and we deeply apologize.”

As for Tatami, he was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he regained consciousness and is no longer in any danger, though physicians plan a full medical examination to determine the cause of his collapse. Meanwhile, regardless of the motivation for the announcements made during the incident, Japanese people at large seem to believe that when someone’s life is on the line, a woman stepping into the dohyo doesn’t mean she’s trampling on sumo’s traditions.

Sources: YouTube/とろんぼーん, Nikkan Sports, Yahoo Japan News/Kyoto Shimbun via Jin, Sports Hochi

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