Say it Ain’t So, YouTube!

Foreign sumo fandom has been thrown into disarray as YouTube shutdown multiple sumo highlights channels over intellectual property rights, including the heavyweights, Jason’s Sumo Channel, Kintamayama, and NattoSumo. This is a serious blow to foreign sumo fans who often rely on the YouTube digests for access to recorded sumo action. Frankly, it might completely shut out some foreign fans from watching altogether. The timing of this move is rather odd since Japan is opening back up to visitors and the Kyokai is opening back up to fans. So, as Haru basho is still a ways off, I do want to ready foreign fans for options since accessibility has improved dramatically over the past decade — as well as generally editorialize a bit on the topic.

I have previously written about my earliest exposure to the sport of sumo. To recap, in the days before online streaming, Konishiki, Akebono and Musashimaru were giants of the sport and all were from Hawai’i. We didn’t quite have the hundreds of channels we have now so I don’t know how I found this gem of a highlight show that Larry Beil had a late-night highlights show on ESPN. (You may remember Larry from his catch phrase, “Aloha means good-bye,” from SportsCenter clips of home runs. He has ties to Hawai’i though he’s now working for ABC in San Francisco.) He’d basically condense all of the drama of a 15-day tournament into a single brief program and I was enthralled.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and I had already moved to Tokyo and moved back to the US but I had an urge to stay connected to Japan. The internet really changed everything. I happened upon Araibira’s and Jason’s videos and there was a pretty good community of fans in the comment section. Even back then, the NHK already had Araibira in their sights and he was shut down several times, and he tried to move over to other platforms. You can still find some of those later videos on the interwebs. It’s also still hit-or-miss on the glorious SumoDB, itself. [insert Wayne’s World meme here] Not many of the bouts have links and several which do have been taken down for the same IP concerns.

Araibira’s channel was a rather no-frills, straight rip of the sumo broadcast while Jason obviously added his own jovial commentary. The emotion of Harumafuji’s Yokozuna promotion still gets a sniffle from me. (“I’m not crying, you’re crying.”) And Kintamayama’s digest was always great to watch quick at lunch, and helped keep up with some of the behind-the-scenes news and drama.

So these channels in particular helped reconnect me with my sumo fandom and really helped spark my need to start the blog and connect with sumo fans in my own (camera shy) way. The addition of Natto’s newer data-driven visuals has meant there has been a lot of content to get us hyped for each day’s action. I do think that their channels serve to “broaden the church” of sumo as the community has really flourished, even during a full-on global meltdown which threw the sumo world, itself, into a cloister. So this is a gut-shot to have them all down, even if this is temporary. I can’t pretend to know what’s going to go on with Haru and beyond.

How to Watch Now

I do not think the NHK or the Sumo Kyokai were quite ready for this influx of interest from foreign fans. I have not been able to get comment from either but based on their actions, it is clear that they are opening up to, and embracing foreign fans. The NHK has added a lot of English-language content that is well-produced, engaging, and informative. Especially pre-pandemic, the Sumo Kyokai had been working to improve its outreach to foreign sumo fans through its website with a bit more English content. While the Japanese website got a bit of an overhaul, though, the English site didn’t and there’s still a lot of content that is in Japanese only for now. But perhaps the biggest change over the past few months was the addition of live results and wrestler profiles in the lower divisions, in both Japanese and English. But Andy, where do I watch?


In Japan, the NHK and Abema offer free coverage, streaming and broadcast. Via your TV, it’s a rather ubiquitous, standard broadcast. To log in via the internet, you create an account with your Japanese address and there are additional premium options available for both. But the basic NHK live broadcast has been a staple in my wife’s family for generations. Abema has been a great new arrival since it covers all of the lower division action live — even maezumo!

In the United States and Canada, TV Japan is the only way to legally get the NHK content which includes the daily live sumo coverage. Edit: Thank you to Herouth and Steven Palmer for pointing out in the comment section the JSTV option for viewers in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and North Africa. The two week ad-hoc option sounds fantastic for sumo fans! Internationally, the NHK World site does offer live streams, on select days, of top division matches via its website. The NHK World channel is available to stream live at this link, 24/7.

Now, that streaming option in Japan seems very enticing, doesn’t it? Especially for the hardcore fans, it’s awesome to watch every minute of action. I’ve often wondered why the TV Japan folks (operated by the entity known as “NHK Cosmomedia America” and headquartered in NYC) have been slow to adopt these more modern technologies. Even the question of HD-digital broadcast availability is answered with a glorified, “it depends.” Why does it depend? You cannot purchase TV Japan directly. You have to go through a satellite or cable provider. For those of us who cut the cord, it’s not an option. Monopolies suck.


Replays of selected Makuuchi highlights are available on the NHK World website for the most current tournament. The Kyokai has its own, expanding array of videos and highlights on its official YouTube channel. To be frank, I think I will try to go as direct to the source as I can for footage for the blog. So anything that’s straight from the Kyokai is A-OK. There’s also premium content available which gives access to archival footage, which is pretty cool. All of that, though, is pretty much exclusively found in Japanese. Additional, English-language content is now available via Hiro’s Sumo Prime Time, as well. The video below is his coverage of Hatsu’s Makuuchi yusho bout.


So, the result of all of this is that we sumo fans still have a much improved outlook compared to what we had in the 1990s. We have a lot of well-produced, official content. That content is primarily highlights of the Top Division honbasho as well as ancillary content about sumo culture. This is fantastic but it’s not enough. So fans are going to continue to clamor for more. TV Japan was only an option for the US and Canada so other foreign fans were already forced to resort to VPN access, Twitch streams, Discord, etc., in order to get their fix of sumo. Short clips of bouts are readily available on Twitter, from official and unofficial sources. It’s really a different world than it was when Bush and Stone Temple Pilots were my favorite bands. I mean, this was before Napster and Kaazaa, y’all. We adapt.

Our reliance on these will likely expand if the YouTube channels are gone for good. Personally, I think this may be the start of a wider crackdown on YouTube where the top channels are targeted first and then smaller channels start to disappear. These smaller channels would include a variety of videos which actually pirate content from the other YouTube channels. There are some automated methods for digital rights attorneys to identify copyrighted content, and that is probably why one of our own podcasts got hit with a claim over a short audio clip. Let’s face it, the story is as old as Vanilla Ice and “Ice, Ice, Baby.” OK, yes, it’s actually much older.

So where does this leave foreign sumo fans? I dunno. Ask me again after Haru. I’m very interested to see how this YouTube drama plays out and if it just shifts to other platforms. Best case scenario, this was temporary, a lot of old content is gone but new content will be available (possibly briefly). Hopefully this presages expanded offerings from the Kyokai directly, or the NHK.

However, for Tachiai, and me personally, it rather heightens the urgency to familiarize myself and my readers with the Japanese language if Kyokai sources and Japanese fans end up being some of the best sources for bout footage. Frankly, if you recognize and can search for shikona and key sumo terms, you’re in a great spot. The content is out there and we’ll help you find it. But mostly I just want to make sure the sumo fan community stays active and accessible.

Update (2/4/2023)

It looks like Jason is up-and-running with a new channel!

26 thoughts on “Say it Ain’t So, YouTube!

  1. I’m sure people will not give up this easily, and the content will just go to places where copyright strikes are not as easy or as automated. Yeah, it’s piracy. But it’s not as if there is a legal alternative. The decline of pirated music started when good, affordable alternatives started showing up on the Internet. And it’s never really disappeared.

    In any case, people in much of Europe and the Middle East can watch Makuuchi live legally via JSTV. The best option is buying a 2-week pass in the evening before the basho, this covers the full 15 days. The stream is bilingual, and also available for watching via “smart rewind” if your timezone makes watching live impossible.

    A note about the highlights: On NHK World, which is available free worldwide, via web or app, the highlights are broadcast a few hours after the end of the matches. However, it doesn’t make it to VOD until the next day. This can be a bit annoying for the Netflix generation, apparently, who are not used to looking up program guides and having the station decide for them when to watch. They do have a couple of repeat broadcasts before the VOD goes up.

    • one disappointing thing for me is that for some reason Directv only carries the Standard Definition NHK World channel—not sure if a High Def channel is available on DISH or Cable broadcasts….so all I get is 1990’s-quality video.

      • It would be interesting to know. Since TV Japan would be an additional package on top, I would hope HD would be available. I encourage subscribers to comment on their experience.

    • €50/month is a robbery considering what we get from other streaming services for a fragment of this price

  2. I regularly watch the highlight show on NHK World in the US. AT&T U-verse used to have it as a channel but dumped it about a year ago. Now I stream the highlights through their Roku app. NattoSumo was great whenever I missed a day. I hope the association figures out how important it is for foreigners to have access. It only helps the popularity of the sport.

  3. Thanks so much for this Andy! I was able to take a step back from the ledge. Premium content from the Kyokai is 8.99 a month. Do you know what we would get for that?

  4. Elsewhere, someone suggested stricken YouTubers should post their content on Rumble as a solution to the new “YouTube Sumo Cancel Culture” but I don’t see the reasoning. It’s the content that’s the rub, not the site. NHK would just enforce their intellectual property rights there as they are now on YouTube. Or am I missing something?

    • Well, some places are not as quick to takedown content. Araibira’s videos are still on other platforms but I think that YouTube’s monetization is a big piece of the pie. Twitch streams also monetize. I’m not familiar with Rumble but will look into that one.

  5. The problem for replays was always that they were way too late, usually a day after the action. Maybe it was 12 hours, but it felt like the same thing. The greatness of the Youtube videos was usually in the indexing – get in and out and watch the matches in like five minutes. When. I watched on the NHK app I seem to remember not even being able to fast forward.
    Night and day in the experience.

  6. I have not heard anyone talk about the Grand Sumo app for Android…? I have it, I pay via PayPal $4.19/month USD to be a “Tanimachi” and have all access. I can watch the bouts whenever and repeatedly. There’s also rikishi stats, glossary of terms, description of kimarite etc. I’ve been using it since I discovered it’s in 2017. Is this not available around there world? I got it via Google play…

  7. To be honest the whole situation is crap and NHK and the Sumo Association need to take a long hard look at themselves and decide if they are actually interested in wanting their sport to prosper and grow.

    The reason I watched Jason’s channel was to have an insight and explanation to each of the fights and the participants. His style of commentary is excellent and eventually led me to attend the Ryōgoku Kokugikan in person in Tokyo and watch first hand. Jason didn’t even stream it live but always after the matches had occurred so I don’t know why NHK feels this is any sort of loss in revenue.

    Shame on you NHK.

  8. Please don’t forget to mention that European and UK fans can simply buy a 15 day pass for each tournament at Easy peasy, legitimate and quite cheap too! A catch-up Smart Rewind feature is also available so you can watch, pause and re-watch the action over and over for 24 hours. Operated by NHK Cosmomedia (Europe). For once, Europe is ahead of USA with streaming tech!

  9. Thank you for addressing this topic, it has been upsetting me for days. There are folks who would say, ” the nhk has copyright on their side ” and thus they have the right to do this. They are not wrong, but it is a shame that they are not taking a nuanced look at sumo on the worlds stage. They are partnered with the JSA in covering this sport and the JSA wants to expand sumo’s popularity in the rest of the world as it’s popularity in Japan is declining. These youtuber’s have basically been doing the work of “spreading the sumo gospel” before Sumo knew ( or admitted ) it needed to do so. These youtubers, at least some of them, knew there was a need for sumo coverage outside of Japan, and stepped into that role because of their love of the sport AND because there was a void there. These are nervous times because they are crushing content providers while not creating an official replacement first. I think that on some level Jason and Kintamayama etc would be thrilled to see the JSA or NHK creating the content that non japanese fans have desired for years. But they haven’t, yet. I hope they hear the outcry and realize that people don’t want to just learn some superficial facts about sumo and attend it on vacation as some “japanese” thing to do. I LOVE SUMO! I want to follow it to a somewhat obsessive level and darn it, i hope they get it figured out. Thanks to Tachiai for helping me obsess. Cheers. ( this post looks long now that i see what i’ve typed…)

  10. I suspect that JSA and NHK are trying to squelch competition to the new Sumo Prime Time show hosted by Hiro Morita. Personally I was never too enthusiastic about his commentary.
    It’s always been a little cringeworthy; but, frankly I watch it anyway. I suggest the android Grand Sumo app from DWANGO. For a small monthly premium you have access to an exhaustive array of sumo facts and replay coverage. Also, there are at least two YouTube channels that offer complete live coverage of sumo via Abema without using a VPN. I watch using the Grand Sumo app then switch to NHK premium English coverage via Comcast for makunouchi action which I also tape. LeoDickensonSumo has seen Konishiki as a frequent guest commentator. The English commentary on this channel, however, is not for all.

  11. Glad you posted about this, I’ve been readying my own op-ed but I’m happy you posted something that has the facts about where folks can consume content for the near term future

    Let’s hope this situation turns around

  12. Sumo without NATTO quality of production is a fading sport. There is a limited amount of patience where you can bare those long rituals and one bout without stats or info in 5-10 min time. With natto you have everything to be passionate about the sport. Bout after bout, with sometimes added pre-bout rituals which was a nice addtion some time ago. Every needed stat to know where are we now and what that bout means, like: Rivalry, form, previous ranks, previous opponents. With this you can pump yourself for sumo each day, Sit after work on couch, take fresh cold beer in hand and give those 30 minutes that each division take to best competitive sport ever , knowing that nothing will be confusing. Without natto, there is still sumo, but there is no strive to be invested as each piece of needed knowledge takes a way too long to optain that it should.

  13. It was England’s Channel 4 in the late eighties which first gave me the sumo bug, but after the Albert Hall contest (can there be a better Sumo venue) I entered a decades long Sumo famine as Channel 4 had lost interest.

    I will miss Natto Sumo but there will not be a permanent drought as there are various channels which will at least give me the better bouts.

    The ban does seem somewhat short-sighted.

  14. I know Twitter is not everybody’s medium but @MasakiKudo59 posts good quality videos of all the sekitori matches and many good bouts in the lower divisions. I have found these to be a quick way to catch up on the action the following day. The tweets only give the winner’s shikona in Japanese so it may help to have the torikumi listing available.

  15. As others have mentioned, Natto’s content is top notch. In fact, it is SO good, I am flabbergasted that it hasn’t occurred to NHK that they should HIRE him. His graphics are so well thought out. Imagine what he could do if NHK paid him! Imagine what it would do to boost NHK viewership.


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