Japan’s Controversial Sumo Women

Sumo is considered to be Japan’s national sport. It’s a type of Japanese wrestling and is centuries old and thought to have entertained the Shinto gods. Many traditional Japanese rituals with religious backgrounds like the symbolic purification of the ring with salt is still observed as of today.

Sumo is a full body contact sport that involves two male wrestlers known as rikishi, who try to push each other outside a ring with the goal of getting any part of the other’s body to touch the ground aside from the soles of the feet. The ring, known as a dohyo, is elevated and is made of sand and clay. Wrestling bouts usually last a few seconds to several minutes.

Women wrestlers. | Babak Fakhamzadeh

Sumo wrestling is a trial of strength in combat. The origins of sumo tell us that certain shrines also carried out forms of ritualistic dances where humans are said to wrestle with a kami (Shinto divine spirit). Sumo was also thought to be an important ritual at the imperial court. Representatives from each province were ordered to attend contests at the court and fight.  The contest was called sumai no sechie, or “sumai party” and contestants shouldered their own expenses.

Many traditional ritualistic elements are still observed today in sumo matches including only men can be professional sumo wrestlers.

Women’s sumo. | Mary-chan

Complex purification rituals developed over time, and the blood associated with menstruation and childbirth was deemed “unclean”.

It seems unlikely that women may be accepted as professional sumo wrestlers any time soon, but Japan does have a Women’s Sumo Association. The association proudly has regional and national tournaments that are being held from upper elementary school age through to adults. Some women even train competitively in local sumo clubs along with men. There are also communities that have sumo wrestling activities for both girls and boys such as the “Fuji-Shizuoka Kiddy Sumo”. Who knows what the future brings with today’s ever-changing world.