Table Speech

Current Situation of OZUMO (Professional Sumo)

Mr. Tamaki Imai
Director, Japan Sumo Association

 Today I will talk about the current situation of OZUMO seen from the eye of an outsider. The history of sumo dates back to 734, the 6th year of the Tenpyo Period, when sumo tournaments were held before the Emperor. During the Edo period, sumo tournaments were held in the precinct of temples and shrines to raise funds for their construction or repair works.

 During the Meiji Restoration, the Order of Prohibition of Being Naked was issued, but Emperor Meiji was a big fan of sumo and tournaments were often held in his presence. In 1925 Emperor Showa, then Prince Regent, granted a bounty by which the Emperor’s Cup was made. However, the Imperial Crest of the Chrysanthemum was engraved on it without a permission from the Imperial Household Agency, so it was smashed and another cup was made with the approval. That is the Emperor’s Cup which is currently used.

 In the same year, the Japan Sumo Foundation was founded, which became a national organization and renamed as Japan Sumo Association. Later it became a Public Interest Incorporated Foundation in 2014. There are Council of the Board of Trustees and the Board of Directors as an executive organ which consists of 13 Directors, 10 selected from toshiyori (sumo-elders, former stable masters) and 3 from external Directors including myself. There are about 1,000 affiliated members: about 700 rikishi (sumo wrestlers), 101 tosiyori or oyakata (stable masters), 40 each for gyoji (referees) and yobidashi (callers), in addition to about 50 tokoyama (hairdressers), about 20 wakamonogashira or sewanin (caretakers) and about 50 office workers.

 Yokoshin (Yokozuna Deliberation Council), an advisory body of the Director General, consists of 10 distinguished scholars, though having a quota of 15. When appointing yokozuna (Grand Champion), the Judge Committee nominates a candidate to the Director General, who makes inquiry to Yokoshin which returns the decision after deliberation. The Board of Directors makes the final decision, though the Yokoshin has a big influence.

 When I was a Director of NHK, I was engaged in news reporting and sports for three years. When the Baseball Gambling scandal broke out in 2010, we were driven to an awkward situation. Eventually 2 rikishi were dismissed and 76 were punished. It was just before the Nagoya Tournament, and NHK was forced to make a decision whether to broadcast the Tournament or not. There were many opinions to cancel broadcasting it as NHK being a public funded broadcaster should not pay broadcasting rights to the Association. At the same time there was strong demand from big fans of sumo or old people’s home and hospitals asking not to cancel. After repeated deliberation with Chairman Fukuchi of NHK, it was decided that only for 30 minutes after the 6pm News all the bouts of senior division were to be broadcast. It was the best and the most what NHK could possibly do under such circumstances.

 When the baseball gambling issue came to an end, match-rigging came to light which created a more serious scandal in 2011. The March Tournament was totally cancelled and the May Tournament was held but without any commendation nor reward and the arena was open to fans free of charge. This time NHK didn’t broadcast at all. The sumo world was shaken by another scandal in November 2017 when it was reported in Sport Papers that Grand Champion Harumafuji had assaulted a lower ranking rikishi in a bar. More acts of violence came to light, and now the Association issued the zero-tolerance rule among rikishi.

 Another issue the Association has to solve is prohibition of women. In 1989, Ms. Mayumi Moriyama, the first female Chief Cabinet Secretary, was going to hand over the Prime Minister’s Cup to a Champion on the ring but was refused by the Association on the pretext of observing the traditional culture. Governor of Osaka Ms. Fusae Ohta, now Lower House member, proposed every March at the Osaka Tournament to go up on the ring for award ceremony and was refused each time. Last April during the tour Tournament in Maizuru, the Mayor collapsed on the ring while making a speech and nurses ran up to the ring for rescue. Immediately the announcement came via the public address system calling women to leave the ring. Last July, the Sumo Association set up the “Committee on Women and Sumo” and started to discuss gender issues belatedly at long last. I feel, however, oyakata, stable masters, have no serious intention to change.

 I must say the Sumo Association based upon long tradition and customs is now run as a Public Interest Incorporated Foundation governed by modern rules and regulations. As such, there are various contradictions and inconsistencies. Sumo is a national sport originated in Shintoism. At the same time, it has a nature of entertainment business operated by profits generated from ticket sales, broadcasting rights etc. It is not easy to make totally different elements compatible with each other.

 It is only 5 years since our Association became a Public Interest Incorporated Foundation, so there remains a lot to be revised. I’ll be committed to do my best for further prosperity of OZUMO till my term as a Director ends next spring.