Stance that the sanctity of the sumo ring is tarnished by female presence extends all the way down to elementary school-age kids.

It’s been less than 10 days since a controversy erupted as women were asked to leave the ring at a sumo exhibition in Kyoto where the attending male mayor had collapsed. Now the Japan Sumo Association is once again under a critical spotlight as it asserts that the ring’s sacred purity will be contaminated by the presence of even grade school-age females.

As part of its regional spring exhibition tour (which included the above-mentioned event in Kyoto), a sumo exhibition was held in Shizuoka Prefecture on April 8. This was the sixth iteration of the annual event, and as part of the festivities, elementary school-age children from local youth sumo clubs are allowed to step into the ring (called the “dohyo” in Japanese) for a training session with top-tier professional sumo wrestlers. For the last three years, the kid contingent has included girls as well as boys (there are no records indicating whether or not girls participated in the event in 2013 and 2014).

▼ A photo from a previous iteration of the event

This year, five girls, two from Shizuoka City and three from the town of Yaizu (also in Shizuoka Prefecture) were to part of the training session, dubbed “Chibikko Sumo” (“Little Tykes Sumo”). However, a few days prior to the event, the local organizers received a phone call from retired sumo wrestler Daisuke Araiso (who competed under the ring name Tamaasuka). Araiso now serves as the national Japan Sumo Association’s director for Shizuoka Prefecture, and he called to tell the local organizers that the Japan Sumo Association did not want girls to participate in the Chibikko Sumo portion of the Shizuoka event.

Oh, and the exact date Araiso placed the call? April 4, the very same day of the incident in Kyoto, though it’s not known whether Araiso was aware of the mayor’s collapse at the time of the call.

So in the end, all 20 of the kids who took part in the Chibikko Sumo program were boys.

The prohibition against women entering the dohyo has its roots in ancient Shinto beliefs, and to this day sumo retains strong ties to religious ceremony. However, even to many Japanese people, this is a case of clinging too tightly to traditions, as evidenced by online reactions including:

“Utterly idiotic.”
“This is just cruel.”
“With the timing, it’s hard to see this as anything but rubbing it in women’s faces.”
“The Japan Sumo Association is worthless.”
“This isn’t going to do the sport any favors in the image department.”

If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s the fact that despite the Japan Sumo Association’s hard-line stance, not everyone involved in the sport feels like women need to be kept out of the ring, especially in the case of little girls. As evidenced by the inclusion of girls in the Shizuoka event the last three years, there are coaches willing to train girls in sumo, and organizations who want them to have a chance to compete. “I wanted the girls to be able to enter the dohyo, at least for a regional tour event,” lamented the coach of the Yaizu sumo club, and hopefully they’ll get the chance someday, even without the Japan Sumo Association’s blessing.

Sources: Tokyo Shimbun, Twitter/@taketake1w via Otakomu
Featured image: Twitter/@taketake1w
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