Another Embarrassing Sumo Incident


Frankly, I did not want to report this story at all, as it’s a demonstration of stupidity. But now that it has gone global and is busy giving sumo yet another black eye, it’s unavoidable.

During the spring Jungyo tour’s stop in Maizuru, the mayor of the town was on the dohyo speaking and collapsed. Many people rushed to the dohyo to help, including medical professionals that were present to enjoy a day of sumo. They applied CPR and first aid techniques to sustain the mayor until he could be transported to the hospital. The Mayor is going to be ok, it seems. The quick work and skillful application of medicine saved the day. That’s the good part of the story. Now the stupid.

Several of the highly trained medical professionals were women. Did they care that the dohyo is supposed to be a sacred place were women were not allowed? Hell no! These were dedicated healers. A fellow human was in peril, and they were going to go save him. So far, only slightly stupid. Oh, but then one of the younger gyoji took to the PA system and directed the women to leave the dohyo. Not once, but several times. Of course, it was captured on video, of course it was posted to social media.

Sumo loves to be a sport of unchanging and unyielding tradition. As a westerner my perspective is not the Japanese perspective. As I mention at least once per basho, most of us in the west are outsiders to this land, this culture and this sport. But at some point, common sense had to have kicked in. Look here, Sumo Association of Japan, if you want to make sure no women doctors or nurses try to rescue the hurt and injured from your sacred space, you are going to need a set of medical folks who are on call.

Chairman Hakkaku rightfully apologized later, stating “It was an inappropriate response in a life-threatening situation,”. Damn straight Hakkaku. Furthermore, it was an unforced error and loss of face for a great sport that has been greatly degraded over the past year. For the chairman to try and pass this off on the inexperience of the young gyoji is inexcusable.

The only clear winners here are the mayor of Maizuru, who lived to see another sunrise, and Takanohana, who through a majestic stroke of luck is no longer the biggest asshole in sumo for a few days.

Again, I am an outsider, but I am going to guess that my favorite sport is going to suffer a well-deserved set back in the people’s hearts from this pointless insult.

Video at this link

Comments Closed


Comments for this post are now closed. Some great and thoughtful discussion from our highly-valued readers, but we were swerving into things like trans-gender issues that have nothing to do with sumo. Thank you for understanding.

37 thoughts on “Another Embarrassing Sumo Incident

  1. A woman stepped onto a dohyo, did it explode or get broken or whatever? It didn’t. Did somebody die? Luckily not, thanks to breaking this rule. So how about they lift this stupid ban already.

  2. I would not be so hasty. This ‘no women on dohyo’ rule is there for a reason, and probably more than one reason as well. I don’t know exactly what those reasons were, beyond a brief article on BBC’s website which describes this story and mentions in passing that women were (are?) considered impure. (Incidentally, it presents the throwing of salt onto the dohyo after the women doctors left as a bigger deal than not allowing them to be on the dohyo in the first place.) But it does not say why they would be impure. Perhaps you or someone else knows more?

    • Ah, well – the throwing of salt happens because an injury has befallen someone on the dohyo, It happens with great vigor when someone gets hurt in a match. It’s just that most westerners don’t get to see it because it does not make the NHK highlight reel. During my most recent time watching sumo live in Tokyo, some poor Sandanme fellow broke his leg, and there was a large amount of salt that went on the dohyo at that time.

    • I would very much be hasty about this. The rule is there for a reason, and it is a stupid one, and perhaps multiple stupid ones. Women are not “impure”, whatever the hell that means.

      There is no logical reason why female physicians should not be allowed on the dohyo in a medical emergency because they are women, full fucking stop.

      • Xevioso, that’s exactly the sort of haste that you should avoid. You are basically telling somebody else that they have this habit which is wrong, for reasons which you don’t know and don’t care to know, and so they must drop the said habit immediately. You do realise that this does not work as a convincing argument, don’t you. Why would you even use it? It’s just a disservice to the cause that you clearly feel passionate about.

        • Correct. The habit is wrong. I know what the reasons are; it was stated in the article, and is a long standing tradition. The tradition is a stupid one. Not allowing women to enter the ring because they are “impure” is ignorant, misogynistic, and stupid. It’s also in many countries against the law, because of a simple idea known as equality. It’s illegal in most western places to discriminate based on gender, and to say that women must leave the ring solely because they are women and for no other reason is the clearest most blatant example of discrimination I can think of.

          Furthermore, I give not two shits if this offends you, or works for you as a convincing argument.

          Even further, your argument is silly to begin with…”we should not be so hasty to make this judgement” is ridiculous. So I should state the argument slowly? Perhaps use smaller words? Perhaps I should wait until time has passed and everyone has had a chance to seriously ponder and reflect about whether or not women should be allowed in the ring in a medical emergency? Should they have waited and not have been so “hasty” to enter the ring?

          No. Horseshit. It’s a dumb decision and should be called out as such.

          • I’m not so quick to judge the culture and the religion. Most westerners, and especially those on the more liberal end of the spectrum will be quick in wanting to impose a revision of ancient practice.

            However, if you ask whether it was appropriate to impose christianity on native american school kids the answer would be No.

            Why is it wrong to impose conversion of a native american religion, but right to impose change on Shinto tradition?

            I understand the good intentions, we just need to be careful about assuming our values are better than their values.

            • This has nothing to do with “imposing” anything on anyone. The Japanese can do as they like, and I can call it out for what it is, idiotic.

              Furthermore, as the article notes, the Chairman himself seemed to agree…it was an inappropriate response.

              I’m simply calling out an idiotic practice. A person’s life was at stake, and to say that women should not be allowed on the the dohyo to assist because they are women and because of tradition is idiotic. If your belief system is such that you value tradition over a person’s life, then, yes, we have a culture clash.

              So, I will “carefully” state that the value of traditionally keeping women away from the dohyo when a man’s life is at stake is an idiotic one.

            • I agree. It’s reasonable to make exceptions to general rules in a life or death emergency, so they should have let it go when females entered the dohyo. However, if their ancient tradition is that women should not enter, then they should be allowed to maintain that tradition. Both sexes need some things that are theirs and theirs alone.

              We live a PC-obsessed world where certain approved groups are allowed to exclude others, but non-approved groups aren’t. Hillary Clinton spoke yesterday at a women-only club. I’m fine with that, but we all know that no male politician would dare speak at a men-only club. In fact, the very existence of a male-only club would be attacked.

              If men want to maintain the male-only traditions of sumo, they should allowed to do it. Certainly in an emergency you make allowances for exceptions, but men everywhere need some things that are theirs alone. It’s the ancient idea of male bonding and it builds stronger men and it should not be seen as insulting to women at all.

              Just my opinion.

          • J S, I don’t know about dumb. It’s what they say: if it looks dumb but it works, then it is not dumb. Here you have a sport which was all but frozen in amber since before there was a United States. In the meantime there were wars, Tokyo has burned several times, the structure of society was turned upside down at least twice. And yet the sport thrives to this day. It’s not an accident; it’s a result of doing things right as a general rule. So why haste to change, exactly? Why reinvent a more round wheel?

            • It is very important to distinguish terms like changing a rule, removing a rule or even explaining the rule.
              As we see the fans’ opinion (the Japanese fans, the ones whose opinion actually matters) hugely support and approves the women in this CERTAIN case, where they contribute to a life-saving procedure. And that is all of it. Now many might want to go beyond that and dream women freely to mount the dohyo, dance, put a strip pole or show whatever parts of their bodies they are proud with. Or, like a reader mentioned earlier, a transgender standing on the dohyo. This, ladies and gentleman, will not find any support in the Japanese fans. (again, the fans, whose opinion actually matters). And it will be for sumo’s good to be that way.
              Another thing I want to mention is, saying “westerner” certainly does not mean that people in the USA and people in Italy, France, Germany, or any other European (not only wesern) country share the same views. As the late do have a lot more to talk about tradition. And for this I will give you a good example.
              Have you ever heard about Mount Athos? Likely not if you are in the Americas. And likely if you are an European. Mount Athos is an autonomous monastic territory in Greece. There, too, women are forbidden to enter. There has been pressure for long time from different organizations the monasteries to open their doors for women. And we are talking about a place where for over THOUSAND years a woman has not step foot in. What do the monks say? What do the faithful Christians say? Can you guess? I hope you can. “We are not a tourist destination, we are devoted to prayer and keeping our monastic vows.” the monks say, and the faithful support. Even the women do.
              So do not try to scratch the tradition factor. As in some places around the word, (most likely thousands of kilometers, or miles, from you) this things do indeed matter. And not just matter. Where tradition is fundamental.

              • I understand traditions matter. Here in the US, it was tradition (and the law) that women could not vote, own property or enter saloons for a very long time. It took a long time for women to fight that, and for them to win, and for it to be considered acceptable for them to do that.

                I’m certainly allowed to have an opinion about the stupidity of a certain tradition. There’s lots of traditions we have as Americans that lots of folks outside my country would find stupid, and they would be right.

                Fundamentally, just because something has been done a certain way for a long time does not make it right. I understand tradition is incredibly important in Japanese culture, as it is in all cultures to varying degrees. But that doesn’t mean these traditions are right because they are traditions. That’s a tautology.

                In this case, the strict enforcement (or attempted, anyway) of a tradition almost led to a man’s death. If there’s any time to question the validity of that tradition and to ask if it’s a good idea to continue it, now is the time. And there’s nothing wrong with questioning a tradition and changing it.

            • I don’t think the sport is frozen in amber. Some of the traditions, like rikishi not being permitted to drive, are quite new. Foreigners compete. The video Herouth found shows an amazing dichotomy of “traditional” comb making and high tech body fat measurements. Height requirements were adjusted after Mainoumi implanted silicone in his head. Many things have a nod to tradition but not allowing women on the dohyo – when female fans are a surprisingly large proportion – makes as much sense as not allowing female members at Augusta (1st female member 2012).

              • Those are still rather minor, measured adjustments, best described as exceptions. So car ownership became common… and several decades later a decision was made that a rikishi can be inside a car and do whatever he likes there, except driving it. To even become a professional, you must be at least a certain height – except if you have already sufficiently proven yourself in a major amateur tournament. You can use high-tech tools if you wish – but the bulk of your training will still be based on traditional and time-tested techniques. Hakkaku’s response falls right into the same line of thinking: no women on the dohyo, except in rare cases where other considerations override this general rule.

            • Because a person almost died…because of the dumb rule. If by “works” you mean “almost was responsible for a person’s death” then yes, it works.

              “It’s not an accident; it’s a result of doing things right as a general rule” is a tautology, because you are defining “right” simply based on the fact that it’s been done this way for a long time. That’s not a reason for it’s validity.

              Why do you keep using the word “haste” in this discussion? What is the time frame that would work for you to change the rule? Are folks in the Sumo Association of Japan physically incapable of setting up a meeting tomorrow, sitting down, and saying, “Look, this is a dumb rule; enforcing it strictly was almost responsible for someone’s death!”

              • J S, there is another way. You don’t have to keep telling in no uncertain terms that your wishes must be accommodated immediately or else. It rarely works and gets old very quickly. Better to get some allies, people who would like to see a similar thing happen in general but differ on finer details. Some may not join you in the end, but you would still want them to at least be vaguely positive towards you. You will probably not get everything that you want, but once you have enough support you are that much more likely to get most of what you want. And so are your supporters; it’s a win-win.

                But we know already that you do not see getting allies as necessary. Why would you undermine yourself like that?

          • Look JS, even if you´re right your language disqualifies you. You call the argument of Migrant Worker “silly” and say you don´t “give two shits” if he is offended while he was trying to communicate with you properly. Then you tag as “stupid”, “horseshit” and “ignorant” other people´s rituals.
            You can express your opinions without insulting everyone.
            It´s the first time I read such a comment on this blog, I hope it doesn´t become common.

  3. This very disturbing incident will bring talks about one of the most fundamental understandings about sumo.
    I hope for a change. It is time everyone, the kyokai, the rikishi, the fans to understand that women too can do good on the dohyo. The “no women” rule has to be bent.

    • And certainly to clarify, by “bent” I do not mean “remove”. Instead, allow medical staff for example to do their duties or any other emergencies.
      Nothing more than that.

    • Yeah, I did not want to put this on the blog, as it’s nothing but a big parade of stupidity about a sport I really enjoy. If they don’t want fans trying to rescue critically injured officials, they need to have a medical crew on tour with the rikishi. If they do that, they can have that team be any gender, size, shape, color and nationality they choose.

      • These sorts of occurrences happen occasionally here in the states, and often there’s a medical professional nearby just in case. Happens all the time on stage, for example, at plays, concerts and so on.

        This example struck a bit of a nerve with me, because San Francisco’s own mayor, who I voted for, Edwin Lee (San Francisco’s first Asian mayor, btw, in a city where 33% are of Asian descent) collapsed in a supermarket here in the city in December and died. No one around him knew CPR.. The idea that someone might have been prevented from helping someone in a similar situation because of their gender pisses me off.

      • They do have a crew on hand. Those are the people who brought in the stretcher and got the mayor out. There’s a staffed ambulance in every jungyo event. That’s in addition to having all oyakata and rikishi repeatedly trained in CPR and having a fully maintained AED in every sumo heya and venue.

  4. I wonder: how would tradition deal with the presence on the dohyo of a transgender yobidashi, gyoji or sumotori?

    • The women case is not the typical tradition case. The majority of sumo fans, who do value tradition, support the women that went to the dohyo in attempt to save someone’s life.
      While the case you are talking about has nothing to do with tradition at all. As when sumo was created, things like “transgender” did not even exist. Such personality should first seek medical, specially psychiatric attention than approval among sumo fans. And one does not even have to be a sumo fan to respect the laws of nature as this is far beyond sumo.

      • Even if it has not been labelled as such, transgenderism has been around for a long time, well before sumo. There are a number of cultures around the world that don’t subscribe to the binary gender model.

        Even in Europe there was more recognition of natural gender fluidity a few hundred years ago than there is now.

        And why do you think transgender people need psychiatric attention? Do you think that they are unnatural or mentally ill? Because they are not.

        • Chankoman,
          With respect, I think that you need to think harder about gender issues, with a more open mind. For instance, we know that there is a deep connection between sumo and shinto. That religion, apparently, differs significantly from Western traditions in its attitude to gender and sexuality. I am no great expert on the subject, but here is a quote from that great font of knowledge, Wikipedia: “Shinto kami associated with same-sex love or gender variance include: shirabyōshi, female or transgender kami represented as half-human, half-snake. They are linked to Shinto priests of the same name, who are usually female (or occasionally transgender) and perform ceremonial dances in traditional men’s clothing; Ōyamakui no kami, a transgender mountain spirit that protects industry and childbearing (notably enshrined in Hie Shrine); and Inari Ōkami, the kami of agriculture and rice, who is depicted as various genders, the most common representations being a young female food goddess, an old man carrying rice, and an androgynous bodhisattva. Inari is further associated with foxes and Kitsune, shapeshifting fox trickster spirits. Kitsune sometimes disguise themselves as women, independent of their true gender, in order to trick human men into sexual relations with them. Common belief in medieval Japan was that any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or night, could be a fox.” Interesting, no?

          • Stefan,
            with respect too, I also went to read more about the information you provide.
            As you are talking about wikipedia and Shirabyōshi, I opened the page and I never really read the “transgender” part, while you seem to QUOTE one.
            And because wikipedia, believe it or not, is one of the least-reliable sources, being open to write, like for example now one might decide and put that “transgender” thing and pretend it as truthful (while in many cases, specially political, wikipedia is very biased), I decided to check other sources too.
            Like the Britannica encyclopedia, even various youtube videos of Shirabyōshi.
            All I could see is indeed female dancers in men clothes. Not even a single thing about transgenders.
            We have to be very careful when reading, citing and interpreting sources, as they can be wrong, misleading and clearly made-up to serve someone’s interests. Or someone’s fetishes.
            And since it is sumo we are talking about, it has to be clear that while in fact it does have shinto-based rituals and beliefs in it, it is not religion that defines sumo. Sumo now is what was developed in the Edo period, a wrestling combat competition.
            As for the “gender issues” and the “open mind”, they too should have limits. It is enough open-minded to accept the women with their medical assistance going on the dohyo. Anything beyond this and other emergency situations is not acceptable. And this is only my opinion.

            • Dear Chankoman,

              I am happy that you have overcome your initial “disgust”, so I prolong our (respectful) debate, although I imagine that the owners/moderators may want to cut it off at some point. My own view is that sumo (which is the only sport that I have any interest in) should remain strongly attached to its traditions. Thus, I am one of those fans who think that foreign rikishi are a mistake. So that’s where I’m coming from.

              I agree that today’s sumo traditions date largely from the Edo period. But even there, I think you will find that gender and sexuality were treated differently than they are in the modern era, whose prevalent attitudes seem to derive mostly from the Old Testament, filtered through Victorian England. A glance at some of the more popular Ukiyo-e prints will tell you something about Edo attitudes. Also, in the culture of the samurai, there was a strong homo-erotic component, similar to the one that prevailed among the warriors of ancient Greece. But, I am not trying to pose as an expert on Japanese history.

              I do not think that we will see any transgender rikishi any time soon (as to gay ones, I am confident that there have been many, although I could never prove it). In my original posting, I was thinking more about those useful yobidashi, and I honestly wonder what would be the attitude of the kyokai, the associations, the fans, etc.

  5. Hakkaku must have perfected his apology skills by now – he’s had an immense amount of practice.

  6. I get not wanting women (or men) around if they’re not helping the situation, (gawkers, someone snapping photos, whatever,) but if it’s OBVIOUS they’re providing medical assistance, and that they know what they’re doing, then yes, Stupid. Having rules about who can be in the dohyo when can be about safety as much as tradition, (if Ichinojo falls on my 5’3″ female frame, I’m having more than a Bad Day,) but in this case, the interest of safety would have been for allowing the medically-trained women to be where they needed to be.

    In general, though, I’m more surprised the JSA didn’t already have their own medical staff handy, if for no other reason than for the wrestlers themselves. What was the protocol if one of their own dropped from a heart attack? I feel like a few other aspects of this are getting overlooked because of the Stupid.

  7. I think Bruce has more or less the right take on this when he says this: if the Sumo world wants to insist on upholding traditions that are distasteful to many in the modern world, they should have the good sense to keep medical staff on hand who can save lives without violating those traditions. It’s more a question of their competence and good judgment than the validity of a civic quasi-religion.

    I might add that I strongly disapprove of how relatively difficult it is to find a news report that can explain what kind of tradition it is, its origin, etc. Is this a “country club not allowing women” tradition, an “old but misunderstood Shinto” tradition, a “nobody really knows but we like it because it’s old” tradition, or what? I like to learn more about sumo, so if anyone knows the answer (or where to look) I’d like to hear it.

    I hope that we can express our disapproval or criticisms of sumo and the people in it with charity and goodwill toward our fellow fans.

  8. The video is worth watching. The first woman up on the dohyo – presumably a doctor or other professional – pushed the men aside and began vigorously giving CPR to the stricken man. She may have saved his life. Other women joined in. After the announcement, they were all hustled off the dohyo. The lady is a hero.

    • Another thing worth noting is that the yobidashi make way for her and do not try to call her off. It’s not as if there is a global, sanctioned stupidity among the NSK employees

  9. The chief judge always looks so lonely on that side of the ring maybe 2 “male” medical professionals could keep him company.

  10. the women being seen as ‘unclean’ is nothing new historically to many races across many nations for many ‘religious’ reasons from the earliest of times onwards – it’s just interesting to see it crop up in this ‘enlightened’ day and age – and in this ‘day and age’ it should have been expected it would spread like wildfire via social media…. interesting to see where things go from here. thank you to the female medical professionals who continued to do what needed to be done, and thank you to the yobidashi who let them do it unimpeded.

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