For sumo fans outside of Japan, there has been a sea change in the way we enjoy sumo. Many of us watched the lower divisions via a streaming TV service called Abema.tv, which we connected to via VPN that gave us a Japanese IP address. But it seems that Abema has decided to block VPN addresses from its service, and suddenly the normal ritual of tuning in during the late afternoon to catch the action in the lower divisions, up through Makushita was gone. I completely understand why they did it, and they own the rights to that content. They are fully justified to block foreign folks if that is what makes sense for their business. But for team Tachiai, we are sad to lose access to the lower divisions.
Coupled with Kintamayama going on holiday for a time, the number of ways a fan can get more than the basic NHK highlight reel are limited. For myself, I long ago subscribed to the NHK world wide feed, and I am privileged to have access to the full 2 hour Makuuchi broadcast each day (actually the middle of the night). I am incredibly thankful someone lets me buy this content, but as readers may have noticed, I have become a big fan of the Makushita top echelon, and there is simply no way to take that in now, short of going to Japan.
Several of my sumo friends have rightfully wondered, “Why doesn’t Abema just offer a way for us outside of the country to spend money for access, and let us pay watch?”. This is a great question and digs straight to the heart of one of the ugly aspects of the modern age. Abema probably does not have the rights for world-wide distribution. They may have started blocking VPNs because the actual rights holders (NSK? NHK?) asked them to do so, and given how modern copyright and content ownership laws work, they were within the law to do so.
Like many sumo fans around the world, I suddenly found my evening free during Honbasho, and was unsure what to do. Of course the first 2 hours was spent madly trying to find a way to get the stream working, followed by expanded time with my family enjoying myself. I am sure at some point in the future, the hard-core sumo fans like myself will be granted some way to take in the full day of the basho. But until then, we are likely going to have to make do with whatever videos someone can sneak out onto platforms like YouTube and Vimeo.